The Effects of Creative Degrees on Mental Health: Have We Had Enough?

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It’s no secret that there’s a serious misconception when it comes to the arts, specifically when it comes to the often romanticised process of arts education. Creative degrees such as Fine Art, Fashion Design, Fashion Marketing and Graphic Design are usually right at the top of the ‘My degree is far too difficult, why didn’t I just study *insert art-based degree here*?’ list. However, with today’s art and fashion industries becoming more competitive than ever before, it’s time to shine a light on the effects their education have on our university experiences, our financial situations and most importantly: our mental health.

Having studied Fashion Marketing for almost three years now, it’s safe to say that I’ve found myself in a frenzy of downward spirals, most recently the biggest of them all: the third year spiral. Initially, it’s easy to assume that the glitz and glamour of the fashion industry is just that; glitzy and glamorous, but the more I’ve thrown myself into that world the more pressured, stressed and unhappy I’ve felt. Studying degrees that have this sort of ‘end goal’ can be ridiculously intense, especially when it comes to deadlines. Although we don’t find ourselves sitting many exams, the mountains of coursework and its aesthetically pleasing requirements can absolutely take their toll. With creative degrees it’s no longer acceptable to wade through a sea of academic journals, get some research and write a report to hand in, because the expectations of these courses go well beyond the bounds of conventional academia. What’s most frustrating of all is the fact that regardless of how well researched, well read or well written your work is, you will almost always be marked on your creativity and ability to ‘out-do’ everyone else. This includes being marked on the artiness of your layout, your ability to photograph and design, and your ability to come up with some sort of creative output alongside your report all in the same amount of time it takes someone else to write an essay. Exhausting.

It is often said that creative degrees promote an unhealthy working routine, as “late nights, lost weekends and extended overdrafts” are unfortunately the norm, according to designer Daniel Fletcher. This lifestyle is something I guarantee every art/fashion/design student has experienced because as someone who devotes their university education to a creative subject, it’s easy for everyone to assume that you’ll be willing to do whatever it takes to succeed. This involves splurging on train tickets to London (even if you live nowhere near) just to go and get some primary imagery of an exhibition that your lecturers have continued to shamelessly promote, staying up all night for an entire week because there’s no way you’d finish re-doing your InDesign layout in time otherwise, and even living off tinned soups for a month just so you can afford to actually create your final major project collection.

If you think I’m just being dramatic, I implore you to think again. A recent publication curated by Central Saint Martins literally devoted an entire supplement to exploring the mental and physical health of their recent graduates, one of which was the previously mentioned Daniel Fletcher who revealed that he spent a week in hospital on a drip following the hand in of his graduate collection. A drip. Now I’m not saying that our degrees are way harder than yours, I respect that each and every course has its pressures, but I truly believe that creative degrees push students physically and mentally to the absolute limit, and then some more. They require an everlasting supply of creativity and imagination – one that must be available for use at any given time – and have the ability to bring you all the way up one week, and tear you all the way down the next. As designer Phoebe English put it, the process is “both crushingly, excruciatingly devastating and intensely, illuminatingly elevating, never in equal measures.”

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Fashion Marketing student at the University of Southampton.

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