Mind Over Matter aims to cast a spotlight on mental health awareness in the creative community. Kim MacKenzie-Doyle, the founder of this initiative and current president of the Institute of Designers in Ireland, addresses the need for a time out.
“We work in a stressful industry where we are expected to produce exceptional work on tap, every time”
What is Mind Over Matter?
Mind Over Matter is an initiative that puts a spotlight on mental health awareness in the Irish creative community. It provides designers with a platform to use their skill and talent to raise much-needed funds for mental health organization, Aware. It brings the design community together for one day on World Mental Health Day (October 10) to give consultations to a range of businesses on how design could add value, with 100% of the consultation fee going directly to Aware.
Why does it matter so much now?
We constantly see so many creative people, in and out of the spotlight, that have experienced the devastating effects of mental health issues. We work in a stressful industry where we are expected to produce exceptional work on tap, every time. The demands on us are never-ending, and we also add to those demands; we strive for excellence, we enjoy the work too much. As friends, colleagues, and just as human beings, it’s time to take a little responsibility and do something positive to help each other and to support our own community.
What was the inspiration for setting it up?
Just before my presidency of the Institute of Designers Ireland (IDI) in 2016 I read an article that stated, ‘Creatives are 25% more likely to suffer a mental health issue in their lifetime than the general population.’ This was a bit of a mic drop moment for me. It resonated. Many of my peers (I suspected at the time) were experiencing issues, but no one was talking about it and it did not seem to be getting any better. After having two children – in front of quite a few people, due to complications – I lost a bit of the fear about experiencing emotions publicly, or asking hard questions. I cried in meetings (some were great meetings, some were bad!), I frequently got, and get, emotional – and I don’t feel ashamed about it. I learned the world did not end for me, and it didn’t make me weak. I changed gear in my head, and I felt better. I didn’t keep the stresses in. I wanted that experience to be normal for my girls; for society to be more welcoming of for the normal ups and downs. I desperately wanted the world to be a more open and accepting place for them, and everyone.
Why is it so important to you personally?
My grandfather committed suicide when I was quite young (tearing up now), and I remember him so fondly smiling and catching me when I was flying down his stairs on a poorly crafted toboggan. He seemed so happy all the time, no one in my family talked about how he died, and I didn’t find out until my teenage years. My father, who is my hero, also suffered pretty serious bouts of depression, having committed himself two times. I remember clearly, during my Leaving Cert year, that he was not himself. He has told me since it was a dark year for him. He was so different, I could not talk to him. I knew something was wrong but could do nothing, just watch helplessly. I felt so guilty for not being able to ‘fix’ him. I have a weather eye always on myself and people close to me.
So now, I can use my skill and talent to help the experts that do know how to help people experiencing an issue. This platform allows a huge number of creatives and businesses to do exactly that too – donate their time to support Aware, or by paying a fee to get a consultation with a world class Irish designer. 100% of the fee goes to Aware.
Why is it important for creatives to manage and maintain their personal mental health?
We do need to take more responsibility for ourselves and our own well-being. We are constantly down the list, as work and passion projects come first and we are a poor second. Creative work is so personal, there’s only the few unicorns among us that have the ability to remove themselves professionally from the work. You and your work are constantly being judged by clients and peers, and you rarely get down time to recharge your creative energy. You are also responsible for many stakeholders in projects: the user, the brief, the client, the boss, the project manager, the creative aim. On many occasions you have to stop work on a project that you may not be 100% happy with yet, due to timings or costs.
You have to remain open to inspiration and information. You act as design therapist; accountant; project manager; marketer; creative. It’s a big ask for a creative brain. We can work really well under pressure, and a little pressure can be good, as deadlines are healthy, but we are only human. It’s not a 9 to 5 (I have a notebook on my bed side table to sketch ideas or notes down, frequently at 2am in the morning) and we need space to recharge. We need to place a higher value on our own time.
Conversations around mental health seem to be more prevalent and public, whether in the media or through the engaging and inspiring content of Blindboy and others. How do you think this is being received by the general public – do you think it’s reducing the stigma?
I do think this is helping. We have seen lots of public figures talk about their experiences and that’s fantastic. But it’s still somewhat removed, you’re reading about it or listening on the TV/Radio. We need to have these conversations ourselves, openly in work, out of work, and at home. It has to be more human, and we have to act to really make a difference. It’s so endemic in our society that it’s going to take more to resolve. The government just do not have the adequate resources in place to support mental health services in our country.
What are the biggest impacts on the creative mind and its positive state?
Time management – there is nothing like a deadline to pull an all-nighter. Clients not understanding that great design needs time! I think we need to learn to push back, but the fear of losing the client or having an unsuccessful project turns us into yes-men.
I am trying to figure this out myself. We are all different, but I know I need time away from work to see it from another perspective. Building in that time to reflect, to ask myself questions about my work, is difficult, but when it does happen it really pays off. I see a different angle, I see what I may have missed, or have a light bulb moment that is the exact right answer to the problem I am facing.
How can people help themselves? Any tips or tricks you’ve learned that help?
I am not a beacon of light here; I really need to pay more attention to myself. I work too late in the evening, on top of work, and have only started attending a fitness class to attempt to be physically healthier. One huge moment for me, at the launch of Mind Over Matter, was when Brid O’Meara, Director of Services from Aware, answered a really raw question from the audience with the answer, “One foot… put one foot on the ground and you have achieved something.” This sentiment, that we need to acknowledge a small step in the right direction was powerful. This is my small step, my one foot.
Words: Richard Seabrooke