Creativity as an emotional outlet


MIND MOVES:Any form of creative expression can become something that connects us with others

AS A third-level student I researched the mental health of my peers. As I did, I became passionate about finding ways to support young people in their search for wellbeing. The one resounding message that stuck in my mind - one so obvious yet so easily missed - is only when young people can be seen as assets in society as opposed to problems, that change can take place.

Being young, we are constantly being brought into conversation with references to our "misspent youth", and in terms of what we are doing wrong in society and why. If we were to believe all of the hype, we are a generation of selfish, reckless adolescents who care about nothing and are only out for ourselves.

We need an adrenaline rush on an hourly basis and we don't care what we have to do to get it.

When we are honest with ourselves, we can see that we have become caught up in a stressful and competitive society that can too easily take over our lives.

It is no longer "good enough" for us to simply be happy. Whatever happened to being yourself and allowing yourself the space to grow and change as a person, as your interests, views and possibly your path in life change? We have been so consumed in being "successful" that we have failed to pay sufficient attention to the things that are priceless in our society: how we achieve and hold on to peace of mind.

Coming from a creative background I am aware that many of our most famous creative people used their creativity to express and deal with their own mental health difficulties.

Put simply, they used their creativity as an outlet for their emotions, pressures and life's obstacles. In creating something visually or lyrically beautiful, they were able to release a part of themselves and how they felt at that precise moment.

If we look back at Picasso's "blue period", which is believed to be a personal reaction to learning of the death by suicide of his friend Carlos Casagemas, it is this period of emotional struggles, trauma and loss that is acknowledged as being one of his most remarkable. His work is just one of countless examples of how having a creative and constructive outlet for strong emotions can bring about healing.

Today, on the music scene, we see countless examples of creative outlets for pain/ emotional struggles no matter what genre you choose from. Each holds a message of emotion and in turn creates a feeling or reaction to the listener. People can relate to them, without actually being there or personally going through the story being told.

Perhaps it is through creative outlets such as art, film and poetry that we feel safe to break down the barriers between "them and us"; those who have "mental health difficulties" and those who are "well". Because, at some moment, whether we're listening to a song about loss, or watching a film about someone who feels like he's losing his mind, we feel we can empathise and we imagine our response in a similar situation.

Creativity allows us to acknowledge our own vulnerability, giving us the opportunity to evaluate how we see the world and where we fit in.

Creative expression of another person's pain with which we feel we can identify with can help reduce the feeling of isolation that is so often related to mental health difficulties.

Everyone has mental health and everyone at times struggles with difficulties in their life. It's how we deal with these difficulties that makes the difference on the impact they have on us.

Any form of creative expression, from writing something, to making something, to buying a gift for someone, can become a moment where we take the raw elements of our emotional life and transform them into something that connects us with others.

Sometimes it is the pain we feel in difficult moments that enables us to do or say something real that connects us with them and changes both our lives.

• Rachel Prendiville is a member of the youth advisory board to Headstrong - The National Centre for Youth Mental Health.