Fashion + Mental Health 2020

(Please) Do not submit to the fashion industry’s mental illness pandemic. It’s plagued.

Mental health is a part of everyone’s daily drudgeries whether some believe it or not. It refers to our “cognitive, behavioural and emotional well-being”. Aristotle believes that “No great genius has ever existed without a strain of madness” (which I agree with). The fashion industry is plagued with many issues however, the excessive glamour, flashiness, the thrill and excitement frequently distracts many from the underlying issues within the industry.

The industry places unique pressure on professionals, it is a sink or swim system. Meaning that if you are unable to meet expectations at work or incapable of producing the ‘next big thing’, you’ll drown and be out of the industry as fast as you came in. 

The fashion industry roughly employs millions of people to work, it is one of the largest consumer industries. It does and has served as a catalyst for global development. Therefore, the industry must address its environmental and social footprint or growth will taint. And it must start by addressing mental health. iCAAD reports that those who work in the fashion industry are “25% more likely to experience mental illness due to its fast paced, demand for the highest standards and heavily anticipated nature”.

It’s time for a way overdue change

Mental health does offer many different connotations, which are often more negative than positive. Which again, is understandable due to its intangible nature. However, we must not ignore mental health. We must continue to talk about it in order to not only destigmatise mental health in the fashion industry, but the world. We must erase the stigma that trails mental health.   

Mental health affects as to how we think, feel and act. Your mental wellbeing is central. Therefore, why not take care of it? Brands and designers are getting more creative in regard to raising awareness around mental health. The celebrated Off-White designer and artistic director for Louis Vuitton, Virgil Abloh, broadcasted that he’ll be taking a three-month break from ‘public life’ which resulted in him missing his own fashion show in Paris Fashion Week. 

Besides his main occupations, Abloh is also a DJ, he’s on the board of the CDFA (The Council of Fashion Designers of America), a visual engineer and also a collaborator with many brands such as Nike, Rimowa and Ikea, among others. His team wrote to Business of Fashion, stating that Abloh will be “shifting gears to a pace less than his usual constant work and travel for a few months, due to health considerations”. Abloh is considered the “busiest designer in fashion today”, which therefore means that his lifestyle and mental health comes at a cost, he is constantly in a fast pace atmosphere and is under continuous pressure from the world to live up to that expectation. I know I personally anticipate big projects from Abloh throughout the year, each year.

Abloh was “tired” which led to him visiting his doctors whereby he was informed that his jet-setting lifestyle and endless work projects are a massive burden to his health. Abloh did not further elaborate on his health conditions however, his announcement significantly highlights the ever-increasing, brutal speed of fashion, and the weight load it places on even its most prominent designers.

You can’t avoid the inevitable, especially when there’s science to support it?

One in four people are reported to be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. The World Health Organization reports that there are roughly 450 million people whom are currently suffering from mental illness. Therefore, mental illnesses are among the leading causes of ‘ill-health and disability worldwide’. It must not be neglected or ignored.

Fashion psychologist Carolyn Mair believes that “we are seeing more and more people talking about their mental health, which is very positive”. The tragic deaths of Alexander McQueen and Kate Spade have brought the discussion about mental health to the forefront of the industry. 

Mental health is becoming harder and harder to ignore. Kate Spade was found dead in her home in New York in 2018. Kate Spade brand was persistently associated with happiness, bright feel-good colours and positive messages therefore, her sudden death rocked the fashion world. It was declared by a medical examiner that her cause of death was suicide.

This really does go to show that you honestly never truly can understand another’s pain or burden that they are carrying. Reta Saffo, Spade’s older sister reported that she ‘did not want to seek treatment for mental illnesses.’ Saffo continues asserting that ‘I felt all the stress/pressure of her brand (KS) may have flipped the switch where she eventually became full-on manic depressive’. There is an undeniable strong correlation between mental health issues and suicides, her death “was not unexpected”.

Exploring mental health in the fashion industry

Psychologist Victoria Tischler expressed that ‘different workers in the fashion industry may experience varying psychological issues.’ Designers for example, are under pressure to create and update every season – which means six shows a year in four different countries! Models are prone to eating disorders as they are required to constantly look perfect. Fashion journalists are constantly stressed and work long hours in order to keep up with the fast industry. These are unnatural burdens professionals in the industry have to conform too. 

Fashion should be a form of escapism, not a form of detriment. The industry presents its own unique challenges and I do understand that rising to the top comes at a cost. Many sacrifices must be made however, self-care should not be of expense. Take care of yourselves, only you can. “We need to work as a team to build our psychological strength”.

We must normalise mental health as we’ve done Donald Trump

Adwoa Aboah is easily one of the world’s most recognisable models, she exudes sexiness, intelligence, and confidence as you’d expect a model too. Therefore, one would never assume that she actually has suffered from depression and drug addiction which unfortunately led to a suicide attempt in 2015.

Luckily it failed. Aboah has struggled with mental health illnesses since the age of 14. However, Aboah never really felt like she knew how to express it to anyone as you cannot see depression. She is beautiful, has an amazing home and an even better life. Yet she’s unable to escape her traumas.

Thankfully, Aboah is now doing better than ever. She stated that “I couldn’t believe talking was that simple, I thought it would be something so complicated”. We as human beings neglect others’ mental issues as we refuse to empathise with something we cannot see. It would have been a completely different situation if depression was a physical disease for example.

We as a society should not treat illnesses differently simply because it affects something we cannot see. Aboah had felt like she couldn’t talk to anyone about her issues however, she eventually did, and it has resulted in her becoming healthier, returning to the person she once knew. She is now a mental health activist whom uses her platform to encourage people to open up about their mental wellbeing.

Surviving mental illness in the fashion industry

Monki are an exceptional contemporary example, of what we all should expect from fashion labels in regards to how they use their platform. Monki are a fashion brand owned by H&M, whom recently collaborated with Mental Health Europe to produce a campaign which aims to empower young people and bring awareness to the impacts social media can have on young people’s mental health.

The campaign comprises of social media influences and mental health advocates exploring the positive and negative effects of social media on user’s mental well-being. Mental health is emerging as an even more pervasive issue, brands, and designers are now starting to use their platforms more than ever to shine a positive light on mental illness and self-care.

I do believe that the fashion industry has the power that could manifest change and amplify the message behind mental health, they are one of the biggest industries in the world. And that comes with a lot of influences.

I do think that if professionals in the industry continue to open up and educate those about their past experiences, it would construct a better environment for everyone but also generate a new future whereby upcoming and aspiring professionals will be able to look, relate, and reflect on how to manage these unique burdens that working in the industry comes with.

Take care of yourselves

There’s still a lot of work to be done. Whatever you’re going through and experiencing please do remember to take care of yourselves. We all do only live once, cherish your life on this planet. If you, or somebody you know are having any suicidal thoughts, like any at all, please do contact +44 (0) 116 123 in the UK. There available 24 hours a day and 365 days throughout the year. You’re not in this alone!

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