On being a young creative dealing with mental health

We spoke to past Design Indaba Emerging Creatives to unpack the way creativity and mental health co-exist in their lives.

Mental health and self-care have been in the forefront of young people's struggles in recent years. This comes as we watch our favourite rappers succumb to prescription medication or find out that some of our favourite creatives have been suffering in silence, all the while creating great work. But the trope of the suffering artist is not new. Prominent writers have for years been synonymous with alcholism, and the drive behind innovative geniuses has often been attributed to episodes of mania.

As we observe mental health month in September, we reached out to some of our own rising stars from our annual Emerging Creatives campaign to find out just what role mental health has played in their work and the proactive steps they've taken to keep mentally strong and healthy in the face of rising pressures. 

Filmmaker Kristen van Niekerk pictured above was part of the Emerging Creatives class of 2018. She says creativity can have a positive impact on those struggling with mental disorders. “I do think that design and art can impact those who struggle with mental illness in a more positive way or at least create a safer environment,” she explains.

Van Niekerk often uses identity as a theme in her own work. One of her first films, called “A Day in the Life of Die Kaapse Kind”, dealt with the hardships of growing up as a person of colour in Cape Town, a city still segregated by race, an old Apartheid legacy. 

The filmmaker, who suffers from anxiety, depression and dissociation has not represented her disorders in her work as of yet but she says that she is still learning how to be creative in times of difficulty.

“I especially struggle with the fact that when I am anxious or depressed, I cannot do anything yet I get frustrated because the industry moves forward regardless and that makes
me feel like I’m not good enough,” says Van Niekerk.

Van Niekerk, who also identifies as queer, said that her disorders have at times stopped her from being her true self in her work.

“I have many ideas that float around in my head and I know they’re great ideas but I get anxious about what others will think about me, especially when it comes to my identity
of being queer,” she explains.

Adding: “I struggle with even conceptualising work because it makes my heart beat faster and I get light-headed thinking about the consequences - even though I have seen that people have generally been accepting of my identity.”   

GoodWill Mokoka, another past Design Indaba Emerging Creative from the class of 2017, has taken a different approach. His latest body of work, titled ‘IF IMMA BE BIPOLAR, I'D RATHER BE WHERE IT'S COLDER’ was inspired by a mixture of his own personal struggles and the twisted world of fairytales.

Mokoka, a multi-disciplinary artist, used the popularised stories of Snow White and The Grimm as a backdrop for his art.

“Struggle is not natural, struggle changes you. It shifts your wellbeing and that's what I saw in the story of Snow White & The Seven Dwarves,” he explains.

He went on to reveal that although it is fairytale-inspired, it is also inspired by his own trials and tribulations, adding “But I have created this body of work, inspired by my battles with myself, my pains, my struggle, my emotions and feelings, things that have affected where I am; my joys and victories, as a way to allow myself to be vulnerable and honest with myself."

Mokoka believes that through creativity mental disorders could “healthily exist”.

Read more: 

Woebot: A smart, accessible mental healthcare solution

On designing spaces with people's mental health in mind

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