College, branded as a time for education but also self-discovery and freedom, can become damaging without the proper tools for success. A poll taken by the Gallup and the Lumina Foundation in March 2023 reported that out of 2,400 college students, 66% were experiencing stress and 51% reported “feelings of worry during a lot of the day.” Additionally, they also found that emotional stress was reported to be one of the main reasons students considered dropping out in the fall 2022 semester. A niche community of college students, who are very involved with the music, film and arts aspects of education is at great risk of experiencing mental health issues as well. A recent survey of 1500 independent musicians found that “73% have symptoms of mental health illness.” The individual needs of diverse communities like artists and musicians require solutions customized to their interests and individual needs.
Emily “Noa” Silverman, a Junior in Graphic Design and graphic designer for the Drexel Theater Company, spoke about how though she herself has employed good practices of stress relief such as drawing in her personal time, many of her friends in Fashion Design have felt academic pressure due to the fast pace of Drexel with little support from educators. Noa later spoke about how this affects the community on campus, mentioning how “we also don’t really have a community-based culture here, it’s all very work-oriented.”
Speaking with a second-year fashion design student, who chose to remain anonymous, it was evident that artistic mediums like making music and drawing were significant stress relievers for her. She emphasized the importance of expressing her creativity amongst the rigorous nature of her major, especially considering the extremely fast-paced nature of the Drexel quarter system. “For things not involving my degree, [the arts] are an outlet of expressionism for which I have no limitations. When feeling overwhelmed, it’s nice to have something to put your thoughts out to see for yourself.” She is not alone in this sentiment.
In a research review, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) detailed the surprising implications that music exposure had on human well-being. Specifically, an analysis of music therapy showed it to have an “overall beneficial effect on stress-related outcomes” and be a useful tool to address serious mental health concerns and substance abuse issues. It is also important to consider other forms of arts, film, and entertainment categories that may be useful tools for addressing mental health issues.
Stevie Vagio, a freshman film and television major, is very involved with the arts and entertainment scene at Drexel. Taking lots of film classes and doing hands-on projects in the field, Vagio provided interesting insights into the unique mental health struggle experienced by people in his major/field. “Once in a while, I do feel burnt out due to the creativity demanded of my major” he says, bringing up an intriguing point. Whereas a biology or engineering major may feel mental health challenges in the form of stress or anxiety over their workload, a film and television major struggles in a different way: creatively. Creative burnout, as described by the Industrial Design Society of America, can loosely be defined as the loss of the ability to creatively generate or express ideas, things that are certainly a focal point of any individual pursuing a degree or career in the arts or entertainment industry. Creative burnout is “a major inhibitor for creative individuals that is often overlooked or dismissed” and should certainly be considered in the context of a college education. Vagio had a notable solution to creative burnout and other mental health issues of arts and entertainment involving students. “Having opportunities to submit films conveying their own mental health problems” could provide a unique outlet for students involved in film to relieve their stress and address their mental health.
Micheal Messina, junior film and television major, member of the Drexel Entrepreneurial Game Studio, and Producer, also mentions the stress that can come with doing projects in such a collaborative program. He notes “A lot of people are willing to work with you if you reach out to them, but I think that [educators] could do a better job at helping people who are not as comfortable reaching out to professors and students in general by maybe adding us all to a portal or somewhere where we can speak to each other that way.” Messina also mentioned the cultivation of student projects and how those greatly can affect one’s feelings about themselves and the program, as these projects allow for personal expression and creativity in a way that assignments might not.
Cat LeFebvre, a freshman undecided design major, also had interesting insights into the issues and interventions applicable to students in her field. Whereas Vagio was more focused on the film and media aspects of arts and entertainment, LeFebvre discussed thefine arts aspect of the field. While LeFebvre agreed with Vagio about the risk of creative burnout, she also emphasized the importance of finding an art medium as a stress outlet that was “soothing, had reduced pressure and emphasized more of the work and less of the stress.” She described her personal experiences doing physical things with her hands to assist her mental health, some examples of such tasks being sketching and drawing on her notes. While she did mention art clubs and other student organizations that put on art therapy events such as drawing nights and t-shirt making, LeFebvre stressed the need for more Drexel-sponsored events (that are not club events) to support mental health, especially during final exams. “Little things like jazz nights and drawing nights can be something to consider. They don’t have to be big; they just have to be effective.”
The points made by LeFebvre brought up another aspect of arts and entertainment mental health interventions that can be overlooked: the accessibility of the programs. Freshman Graphic Design major, Sarah Bonsall, has had her own mental health struggles but had some interesting perspectives on potential university-wide interventions for them. “It would be cool to have university-wide events or things in the dorm that are easily accessible.” She went on to describe the Westphal and graphic design schools as putting a large emphasis on mental health without ensuring that the resources are easily accessible. “Professors can send students emails with steps that we can take to improve our mental health. Even an information session during Welcome Week [with mental health resources and techniques for Westphal and design majors] would be helpful.”
Acknowledging the important role that stress, burnout, exhaustion and other forms of mental health issues have on human wellbeing, the Central Federal Association of the Public Health Insurance Funds in Germany allocates funds to Creative Arts Therapies (CATs). A scientific review published in 2018 describes CATs as being an intervention that “encompass[es] art, music, dance/movement, and drama therapy as their four major modalities” to approach individuals creatively and nonverbally. Notably, CATs differ from traditional forms of therapy by constantly encouraging clients to create/generate. This unique approach to utilizing the creative arts to address mental health challenges is definitely applicable in the context of the Drexel system.
At the University of Wisconsin, the Student Health and Counseling Services adopted the practice of art therapy to support the wellbeing of the students in attendance. Their studies found that art therapy was incredibly beneficial to students, especially those who were undergoing culture shock from being in a different country or those who could not express themselves as freely. Many found that CAT was a successful relief, as it allowed a new medium to express emotions. Having scheduled events throughout the term, especially during times when students are experiencing high levels of stress (such as midterms and finals) may prove to be especially beneficial, especially to students who generally strive to employ the use of art, film, media and beyond as therapy.