Ernest Hemingway, Achieng Obura, Virginia Woolf, Papa Dennis, Edgar Allan Poe, Sylvia Plath and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Creatives who faced mental health challenges and had difficult endings.
In the annals of music is a macabre phenomenon, “Club 27”, a haunting group comprising some of the most celebrated and influential musicians who died at 27. Some by their own hands, others struggling with depression and alcoholism.
So, is mental illness necessary or simply incidental to the creative process and artistic genius? Fame at what cost? Kay Redfield Jamison, the author of Touched with Fire and professor of psychology at Johns Hopkins, says writers are about eight times more likely to suffer from mental illness compared to those who do not pursue writing as a career.
Some writers and artists, however, believe that their mental health issues fuel their creativity. However, they should seek help instead. Club 27 is an eerie roll call of remarkable talent nipped in the bud.
Besides, there are countless artists who have faced similar challenges but navigated the treacherous and capricious waters of fame and find solace, longevity and creative fulfilment. By celebrating and encouraging these individuals, we can inspire a generation of artists to embrace their creativity while prioritising their mental well-being and self-care.
The pressures of fame, coupled with a relentless spotlight, can oftentimes exacerbate personal demons and lead to a downward spiral—to a place of contumely. The allure of excesses, the weight of expectations and the constant demand for creative output can create a perfect storm.
While the allure of ‘Club 27’ and ‘failed artists’ may romanticise the narratives of a starving and tortured artist, it serves as a stark reminder of the importance of mental health support, early intervention and the perils of unchecked fame.
Mr Karuti, a psychologist, is a research officer at the Meru Youth Service (MYS). [email protected].