Mental health doesn't discriminate: Jesy Nelson's departure shows the strain that artists can face

December 16, 2020

It doesn’t feel that long since Jesy Nelson and the rest of those who would become Little Mix were wide-eyed hopefuls on the X Factor – just four more wannabe superstars subjecting themselves week after week to brutal feedback as they chased their dreams.

Jesy – along with Jade, Leigh-Anne and Perrie – saw their dreams come true. Fame and adulation from their huge audience followed.

But for Jesy, that has taken a dreadful toll, ending in her sad decision this week to leave Little Mix, citing the damage it was doing to her mental health. It was hard to read.

There will of course be those who will scorn and ask: ‘how bad can it really be for the rich and famous?’ They will chalk it up to, at most, First World problems. But those views do nothing more than show a total lack of understanding of the pressures of being an artist, especially one who is constantly in the public eye.

Jesy’s fans are mostly too young to appreciate that of course but it’s impossible for any normal person of any age to quantify the pressure of fame. It’s enormous and, over time, it has an effect on almost everyone.

In recent years, the accelerated rise to fame through TV talent shows has exacerbated this. The time it takes to reach national, and often international, stardom has been condensed for many into a very short period of time.

It wasn’t always like that. Traditionally, bands and artists would have toured for years before being signed and thrown into the public eye. They had more time to adjust.

Now, many individuals and groups move from complete unknowns to national celebrities over the course of a TV season, which represents a unique challenge to mental health. As with all walks of life, mental health and wellbeing have to be reconsidered as the core foundation pillars of a stable and successful career.

Manage stress, build resilience

Having worked with many artists at the early stages of their career and seen some go on to bigger things, my advice is always to learn how to manage stress and build your resilience.

That applies to anyone determined to pursue an artform which could take them into the public eye. You will need to learn how to be resilient to criticism, rejection and unwanted attention – vital foundation skills that you should be developing alongside your creative skills.

For groups, there are the additional inter-personal dynamics which must be contended with. After months (if not years) of writing and performing together just to make the record, and then 18 months plus of gruelling global touring to promote it, artists are already vulnerable to great physical and mental exertion.

A culture of internal secrecy around conflict can develop, to protect the artists from disclosure in the mainstream media, but this can in turn exacerbate the private struggle and loneliness that artists’ feel.

Be yourself – and look after yourself

Alongside that, if you’re in a band, be conscious of being labelled as a particular personality. “The mad one”, “the quiet one”.

These labels, which people are quick to apply and can stick easily, develop conscious and unconscious bias towards you and your role in the band. If they’re not challenged, they can end up impacting your view of yourself and you can end up playing a role that you no longer recognise.

Many artists find it helpful to develop an internal character or avatar that represents their famous self as distinct from their private self. Creating that distinction helps them to recognise that there are two equally valid halves of their lives that deserve equal attention.

In short, nothing should come before yourself and your mental health. No amount of fame or status is more important.

As for Jesy, my heart goes out to her. I hope she finds the peace she needs away from the spotlight. And, when she’s ready and in whatever she chooses to do next, I hope she’ll find renewed strength.

About Halina

Halina is a highly-regarded music and entertainment lawyer renowned for her highly commercial style; a skill she learned while operating at the epicentre of the business, label, publishing, sponsorship, events and legal divisions of some of the music industry’s most successful music start-ups. Her diverse and dynamic client base includes an array of gifted individuals and businesses that are entering the industry at every level, reflecting Halina’s own unwavering passion for new music.