This past summer, we profiled Ajani Charles – photographer, director, producer and mental health advocate – touching on his journey towards self-actualization, and how the arts helps to de-stigmatize mental illness.
During the month of October we recognize World Mental Health Day in order to raise awareness, break down barriers, and de-stigmatize life with mental illness – something Ajani promotes through his work as an artist. So we sat down with him to learn more about his approach.
Like many artists these days, Ajani wears multiple hats. While his specialty lies in photography, it’s not uncommon for him to go from working on a film, to a photoshoot, to writing an article, or speaking at an event. In his words, creating art and creating business is an inherently stressful endeavour – not to mention it’s a long game – so living with a mental illness can take a toll on his work.
For Ajani, advocating for mental health is a component of his career that takes priority. Mindfulness practices are the most easily accessible and cost-effective interventions, he says, but encourages people to seek further aid when needed.
“It’s in the best interest of artists to seek help if they know or believe that they are struggling,” he said. “Reaching out to organizations like CAMH, The Canadian Mental Health Association and Youth Mental Health Canada are great starts for creatives who are seeking help.” Ajani is also a member of Workman Arts – a CAMH division designed specifically for creatives that provides resources for creatives in a crisis. You can learn more about that program here.
And as an artist on-the-go, he’s found solace in different apps that he believes creatives can benefit from, including MindDoc – a mood tracking app he’s been using since 2017 – as well as the Calm app – a guided mediation tool he uses on a daily basis.
“If I am not mindful, I can cause myself to burn out or can at least avoid myself by practicing too much hatha yoga, by lifting heavy weights too frequently, by running too frequently, by reading too many books concurrently, and so on, all while operating my businesses.”
As we continue to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, we know that our reliance on digital technology continues to grow, but with that can come different kinds of stress on an artist.
“It took me quite some time to navigate the nuances of Zoom fatigue, and spending excessive amounts of time in front of screens, for meetings presentations and so on,” he said.
“As a collective, we are only scratching the surface of de-stigmatizing mental health on a global scale, many populations are desperately lacking new mental health interventions and paradigms that are reflective of the times, and the global mental health crisis is undermining and ending the lives of millions of people each year.”
Ajani continues to advocate for mental health resources, and stresses the importance of seeking help when needed.