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The Porch: Artists Coping With Their Mental Health Through A Year Of Turmoil

One year into our shutdown, the impact on our region’s artists stretches beyond economics. Some artists say the psychological effects have been as devastating as the financial ones.

On our March episode of "The Porch," we devote the hour to artists of this region coping with their mental health through a year of turmoil. BPR News is airing the program 9am March 19 and 3pm March 20.

For this online version, we've divided the episode into six separate interview segments below. You can listen in any order. You can also listen to the complete episode here.

For anyone seeking immediate mental health help, here are links to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline (800-273-8255) and Hope 4 NC, an around-the-clock support line run through the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (855-587-3463). The National Alliance on Mental Illness has a helpline (800-950-6264), with around-clock crisis counseling available by texting "NAMI" to 741741.

Chelsea Labate has a deep history in Asheville as a musician, songwriter and poet who also teaches the art of songcraft.

Over the past year and a half, Labate experienced psychotic episodes requiring hospitalization. She now lives with her parents in Florida and is making art inspired by her mental health battles.

"If you're an artist, you hear voices. It may not sound like my voice coming out of my mouth right now, but it's more of an impressionistic kind of communication. You might hear the voice of the way the leaves look or it might be more of a visual voicing. This is a call to clarify, 'Can you harness the lightning?'"—Chelsea Labate



Mike Martinez (right) with Natural Born Leaders.

Mike Martinez is the vocalist and lyricist for the Asheville ska-rock band Natural Born Leaders.

He tells us his battle with anxiety is more than psychological. For Martinez, there’s also a racial and cultural component.

"Having a therapist that has a similar life situation as you can help them empathize better with you. In my particular case, as a black man, I wish I had somebody who was appraoching it with that kind of attitude.  As far as medically, I think race does sometimes play an issue in that."—Mike Martinez



Barbie Angell

Barbie Angell writes and performs stories about her life and emcees a variety of stage events in Asheville. She says she experienced many episodes of abuse and abandonment well before adulthood. Her play “Death By Sparkle” derives its title for a past suicide attempt. 

Angell says the pandemic has been particularly trying for herself and her teenaged son, who have lived by a strict quarantine since the pandemic started. Angell tells us the lockdown has extended to her creativity.

"Over the summer, with all the Black Lives Matter protests, I think I also damaged my mental health quite a bit watching hundreds of videos of people of color being injured or abused or killed, mostly by police, but also being harassed by folks, and I think it was just too much."—Barbie Angell



Melissa Hyman and Ryan Furstenburg are The Moon & You

Melissa Hyman and her husband, Ryan Furstenberg, are better known together as the Asheville folk duo The Moon & You. A few years ago, they wrote a song called “The Bottom,” addressing the depression a good friend experienced following a breakup.

Hear portions of the song as Hyman talks about the roots of it.

"Part of what being a creative person does for me is it provides me opportunities to explore and understand these experiences and feelings better so that I can then express them in a way that makes others feel less alone and makes me feel less alone."—Melissa Hyman



The trope of the suffering artist dates at least as far back as 1888, when Vincent Van Gogh, reportedly after arguing with the artist Paul Gaugin, cut off a piece of his own left ear with a knife. 

Many academics have studied this trope. Dr. Christa Taylor has studied those studies. In 2017, she analyzed the scattered research connecting artists with what she terms mood disorders. Her findings challenge and lend context to prevailing stereotypes.

"As an artist, you may have a mood disorder, but your creativity isn't dependent on the mood disorder. I think it's damaging to believe that if you need help and you do seek help, it's going to be detrimental to your art."—Dr. Christa Taylor



Artists and others considering therapy might gain some insight from https://vimeo.com/480945216" target="_blank">Dr. Ilene Serlin, a psychotherapist in the San Francisco Bay Area, who specializes in dance therapy. 

Dance is just one of many artistic and creative alternatives to traditional psychological counseling and psychiatric intervention. For some, Serlin says such approaches might be the key to unlocking otherwise jammed doorways."Everybody has a movement profile. just like we have a personality. We use the movement as an intervention ... A lot of people's emotions are not available to the conscious mind. The body has gone numb. So movement awakens a lot that, if you're just talking, are not available to many of us."—Dr. Ilene Serlin

Matt Peiken, BPR’s first full-time arts journalist, has spent his entire career covering arts and culture.