An Antidote To Creative Blues

In my last article, I spoke about the realities of mental illness in creative organisations, the stigma often associated with it and its subsequent effects on the individual and those around them. Research found that employees were often reluctant to disclose any mental health difficulties to their employers and likewise, employers were not always well-informed on how best to support their employees. In following discussions with the Hajinsky team, we wrestled with how much responsibility an organisation should take on when it comes to the care and rehabilitation of their employees. Although it is not the legal duty for employers to provide care for their employees, we felt that exercising compassion to one another is the foundational step in building better creative workspaces for everyone involved.

Ilustrations: Ellen Li

Compassion is often thought of as being kind. Although being compassionate includes kindness, it is commonly defined as, “a deeply sensed empathic association through which people are internally committed to respond to other’s pain to reduce it” - essentially compassion occurs when people engage in the courageous step of turning towards the pain and distress of others - instead of retreating from it - and are intent on helping others in a way that is beneficial to alleviate their suffering. In the workplace, we all are able to adopt a more compassionate mindset by taking an interest in the lives and well-being of the people we work with. It starts with actively listening to each other, seeking to build quality relationships and establishing trust within working teams. Compassion works alongside good business practices as the more we look out for one another, the more valued and worthy we feel to do good work in our respective organisations.

However, in the fast paced and high-pressure zones of many creative workplaces, it can sound overwhelming to attempt to make these cultural shifts alone.

Enter Self Space; an approachable and expert group of qualified therapists and coaches headed by Jodie Cariss. The Self Space is self-described as, “a place to have a conversation with qualified person,” providing a range of services for businesses and individuals to engage in “everyday mental maintenance.”

I initially came across The Self Space on Instagram and was immediately drawn into their colourful array of compassionate and encouraging quotes. Their modern and simplified approach to therapy was intriguing and after reaching out to them to learn more, I was kindly invited to their Shoreditch therapy space to sit down and chat with Sophie Lasek, Head of Therapeutic Services, about their unique concept and how they work with individuals and creative organisations.

On positioning The Self Space as a place to have a conversation:
“We felt that there was a real gap in the market of the availability of mental health support and therapy for people who realise they want support. It can be quite a long-winded process to go online, find a list of therapists in your area, which type of therapy to go for [...] by the time you’ve sent an email or picked up the phone, it can still be a long waiting time. At any time in that process, you may think, ah things aren’t so bad, it’s ok, I won’t go. So that’s where we come in, we have really good social media, we’re out there, going into a lot of businesses, talking to people and the idea is people have the Self Space app can easily register and book in a session [...] The conversation is whatever people need from that conversation. Some people might come once, while for others, it’s the start of a longer therapeutic journey and we manage that appropriately according to what that person needs. The idea is this is a reputable service where people know that they’re going to get some support with their mental health whether they are in crisis or whether they're not. We’re not a crisis support service but being in crisis can often drive people to start therapy. So that's the idea, we’re accessible for people to come when they want to come.

Illustrations: Ellen Li

On using creative means in therapy:
“Humans need to be understood emotionally and sometimes we cannot make ourselves understood with words alone. Sometimes words are too difficult to say out loud. Sometimes words don’t fully capture our experiences or our feelings. Dramatherapy, which is the profession of some of our therapists, is a way of using narratives to think about our own stories, the gaps in our stories and how we want our stories to develop. We have different objects in the room like cards, pen and papers, stones and small objects for people to use to make images of things and explore how they feel from another perspective. We use creative means to think about the roles we play, the masks we put on, the way we perform in our lives, the way things are played out and the way we act out certain feelings. This helps people to get the empathy they need for feelings that may often be misunderstood. Creativity helps us have more understanding.”

On how The Self Space supports individuals:
“We’re trying to reach anyone and everyone who feels they need some support [...] People come with all different stories and we compassionately listen, care and hear their story. People often come in feeling disempowered, having very low self-esteem, and therefore not feeling much control in their life, feeling very much at the mercy of others. Many have lived with mental illness like depression or anxiety or they can also be coming to terms with trauma that has happened in their lives. Working through personal struggles, along with added stress at work, can at times be overwhelming, which can stop us in our tracks.”

Illustrations: Ellen Li

On how The Self Space supports creative businesses:
“We believe it’s important to have leadership who are trained in spotting the signs of poor mental health. We offer a very bespoke service, first asking ‘what does your business need?’ We provide training in having approachable conversations, how to make their employees feel supported instead of singled out and we explain what mental health is and isn’t as well as ways to break stigma in the workplace.

We encourage businesses to actively embrace work-life balance and understand that creativity is a very natural process where, unlike a computer, it cannot be turned on and off at will.

From my experience speaking with people [working in creative businesses] they are under immense pressure to create when they’re not always in a creative zone. Most of the companies we work with are in the creative industries and we offer mental health support for their entire team. Local businesses will often buy 100 or 200 sessions for their employees to use as part of their health package. When clients are linked to an employer, we don’t communicate to the employer who has used the service, so there’s that element of confidentiality which can allow someone to seek the support without having to let their employer know. In the long run, it would be good to have more open conversations and so we work with employers to help build those bridges between them and their employees.”

I thoroughly enjoyed sitting down with The Self Space. I came away impressed by their vision to increase the awareness and reduce the stigma around mental health - both timely and essential among today’s creatives and creative businesses. Leading with compassion, they are well-equipped to support individuals in engaging with their mental health and becoming the best versions of themselves. The added bonus is their space, located just a few minute’s walk from Shoreditch High Street station, which is just as warm and inviting as their Instagram page. If, like me, you have moments where find work or life or both tough, you’ll be making an appointment to see them soon.

In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 (or email [email protected]). In the US, please contact The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on 1-800-273-8255.

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