Fashion + Mental Health 2020

How much longer can fashion ignore mental health?

Whilst industries such sport begins to wake up to mental health, it seems that fashion is still in its infancy in understanding the real pressures and tribulations of the industry. How can a sector as profitable as this be so behind when it comes to mental health? Can it be considered that fashion is ignoring mental health?

It shouldn’t have taken the death of Alexander McQueen, one of the country’s finest designers for fashion to wake up to what is going on around them. Of course, they’re not alone in being behind on the discourse and conversations around mental health. Many other industries were and possibly still are having the same crisis. Only just coming to terms with what is going on. 

For years mental health has not been on the agenda for some of the major industries. It has not been uncommon for it to take a tragedy such as that of McQueen for these industries to sit up and take notice. In some way it’s understandable. Especially in the creative industries, the focus has always been on the production line. The need to keep the company thriving and competing successfully against rivals. This pattern has lead to a cycle of ignorance. It is not just issues such as mental health. But also other major social events happening in the world around them. 

So why is fashion so poorly affected by mental health?

All industries big and small have reported cases of mental health issues, but fashion has ranked highly in recent years. Owing to the notion that something within the fabric of how the industry operates is causing a disproportionate level of poor mental wellbeing. 

The truth is that fashion and actually, all of the creative sectors to differing extents, have a unique set of challenges when it comes to the upkeep of mental health. Trying to balance so many parts of the job can be a huge challenge. 

Dr Carolyn Mair, subject director of psychology at London College of Fashion said: “You’ve got to be perfect and you’ve got to be on the ball all the time, you’ve got to be networking, you’ve got to be going to these parties, drinking with the other people … and yet, you’ve got to be up the next day”. She quite concisely explains why so many in the fashion industry face such a difficult path if they are to be successful in their career. It’s quite cyclic in a way; you have to network to improve your own personal brand and everything that comes with that. But ultimately have to act professional and be at the top of your game the next morning. 

It seems inevitable that as long as this cycle continues we continue to have people withering under the pressure. It’s not a sustainable practice. The constant pressure to produce the next big thing, to be ahead of the pack and to lead the way in the field can send creatives down a torrid spiral of self-destruction. Drugs and alcohol chief among the sources of self-medication.

Discourse on the subject burgeons on the very real feeling that ever confronting these mental health issues can set your career back. Something that these people have worked so hard for. This inevitably leads to a pattern of suppression until such feelings escalate beyond control, leading to tragic outcomes. The change needs to come from the upper echelons ensuring that they have plans in place to keep abreast of the mental wellbeing of employees. Some businesses have successfully addressed this in hiring wellbeing teams and can already see the huge value in implementing schemes. Ultimately it’s a win-win situation for companies. With better mental health, employees will perform in a much more positive mindset and to a much higher standard.

Time for change

In many ways the fashion industry is a weird one. It encourages a lifestyle that is ultimately not conducive to both good mental and physical health. That is not to say that the whole industry is flawed not by a long stretch. The fashion industry when collaborating and united behind one common goal can be an indomitable force.

The fashion industry must now act as one collective unit when it comes to issues as important as this. We have to see a reform of industries that have for too long turned a blind eye to the mental health crisis. It’s time for change. 

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