Burnout and depression could be removed from art studies

I've been studying acting in Swedish at the University of the Arts for a year and a half now, and I'm enjoying my studies immensely. At the same time, coping and well-being constantly speak to us students.

The studies focus strongly on oneself and on developing one's own artistic expression alone and together with other students. In our voice training classes, there is a lot of listening and hearing together, as well as producing sound together and alone. There are situations where I crawl along the floor and read Shakespeare intensely, after which our lecturer says: "And remember, this is a university".

My studies are diverse and multidisciplinary, of course, with carefully thought-out points of focus. From different themes, we always return to the subject of theater art, the stage and the artist in society. It's wonderful to look at topics and issues from many different angles and thereby grow your own worldview and creativity. On the other hand, as a counterbalance, it's also fun when you can throw yourself into the improvisation course and be obediently involved in the moment.

The studies focus strongly on oneself and the development of one's own artistic expression alone and in many different group formations. Being under constant evaluation is quality and interesting in art studies, but unfortunately also burdensome. At the University of the Arts, the teaching is largely structured so that there is no need to do anything related to studies outside of school hours (which varies by academy). This arrangement sounds quite good in itself. At the Theater Academy, we are at school from nine to five every day, and after the school day, we should go home and rest.

This utopia does not work in any Academy anyway. When the long day is over, the students book a space at the school where they can practice their instruments, learn lines, paint their works in good light, not to mention the eternal art exhibitions, performances, concerts and other extra things that are done outside of school hours. Although this is not mandatory and you do not get credit for this extra work, there is a strong incentive to do so.   

When planning study units, it is often overlooked how the student is burdened with a large workload for a short period of time and how the number of credits in the courses ultimately correlates with the number of hours required for passing. The school-like nature of education also strongly limits the possibilities of absences. Absences can often be due to illness, doctor's appointments or therapy visits. These should not count as absences, but many students fear that they will. Absences are usually compensated by assignments, which are also additional work for lecturers and class teachers. They are less often coherent and sometimes you only get to watch a five-minute video or write an essay of up to three pages after being away for an hour and a half. The balance is missing.

In Finland, we have a major crisis regarding the mental health of students and young people, which seems to have no solution. YTHS is overloaded, there are too few school psychologists, it's easier for students under 25 to get discussion help than older students, and there is a queue for psychiatrists and psychotherapists. These problems are worse for art students, who often spend all day at school and when free time finally comes, they rest and recover from the rigors of their studies. They don't have to put the so-called an extra hour to apply for help and possibly get it finally.

The mental health of art students is strongly affected by the workload of studies. The studies often focus on self-development with the help of different tools, which is also the reason for the extremely blurred boundaries between my personal self and my so-called work self. Students may not immediately have the tools to deal constructively with the taught topics.

The workload of courses and periods is generally estimated to be too small. Art students often study closely with their year course, i.e. their class. In addition to the internalization of skills and knowledge, personal growth as a person is rarely required in other universities. Art students need more time, tools and deepening to receive and internalize criticism than students of other fields.

Artists have been given the responsibility to follow society and its movements. Art is usually the field that actively criticizes society and tries to stimulate discussion and act as an activating facilitator. It is worrying that health surveys show that students in this field are the most unwell in Finland. After all, Finland will soon not have its own cultural field, when a large part of those graduating in the coming years will not be able to work. 


So what should be done with the students' well-being problem? 

In general, the whole country should get more psychologists in higher education institutions and support YTHS to be more and more accessible.

Art students must be encouraged to apply for help and make applying for help normal. Art students are the most burdened and closest to burnout in all mental health surveys. This is despite the fact that study motivation is high. We need a common line for all colleges that organize art education that this special feature of the studies is truly taken into account. For example, my education program has emphasized from the beginning "you can go to therapy during school hours", which, for example, has been the enabler for my weekly therapy visits.

As preventive work, the school's load must be reduced, which does not mean a deterioration in the quality or quantity of studies. The total workload must be measured from the student's point of view. Flexibility is also badly needed.

There is a huge pressure on students to graduate on time, which is why students feel a constant rush, strong pressure and the need to turn their backs on school. Studies must recognize the current situation also because graduating on time is not an act of a super student, but a completely normal thing. Society benefits more from graduates who are healthy and able to work, than graduates who are unable to work.