5 Things You Didn’t Know About The Arts/Mental Health With Karen Lee Roberts

Karen Lee Roberts
Our eclectic team of writers from around Australia – and a couple beyond – with decades of combined experience and interest in all fields.

Karen Lee Roberts is a performing artist and writer who is passionate about mental health.

The show she wrote about bullying, ‘Wilbur The Optical Whale’ recently won a Matilda Award for Best Independent Production.

Her cabaret ‘Chameleon’ is coming up at Queensland's Redland Performing Arts Centre (RPAC) – a beautiful show about rising above adversity, beating the odds and living with mental health issues in a balanced, stable way.

Here, Karen lists five things you may not know about the arts and mental health, before she presents ‘Chameleon’ as part of Stage Sessions at RPAC.


Mental health issues are really common – even amongst famous people. There are so many people in the arts, including famous ones, who suffer with mental health issues. I myself have bi-polar disorder and Generalised Anxiety Disorder, and people from Vincent Van Gogh and Edvard Munch – celebrated painters who suffered with the same long ago – to present celebrities such as Pink, Winona Ryder, Brooke Shields, Jim Carrey, Harry Styles, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Katy Perry, Carrie Fisher, Stephen Fry and Gwyneth Paltrow experiencing everything from depression to anxiety to bipolar.

Stephen Fry KLR
Stephen Fry


There are arts companies that work specially to support people with disabilities. I belong to the first professional theatre company for people with disabilities in Queensland, called indelabilityarts. They make provisions for someone like me who has mental health issues and provide a mental health care plan for me to ensure I am managed effectively and am looked after when working for them. Around Australia, there is also Back To Back Theatre in Geelong, Victoria, who do the same thing and No Strings Attached, Theatre of Disability in Adelaide, SA, and many others.

Wilbur The Whale
indelabilityarts, 'Wilbur The Optical Whale'


The arts can actually help improve your mental health. The arts, and indeed anything creative, is wonderful for improving one’s mental health! In 2015, psychologist and art therapist Dr. Cathy Malchiodi cited multiple studies confirming that being creative can increase positive emotions, lessen depressive symptoms, reduce stress, decrease anxiety, and even improve immune system functioning. A 2016 study in The Journal of Positive Psychology supported these earlier findings, concluding that “spending time on creative goals during a day is associated with higher activated positive affect (PA) on that day.” Positive affect is the extent to which people experience positive moods, such as joy, happiness, and optimism. (Therapy Group of NYC) So get into the arts!


The arts helps to raise awareness of mental health and disability. The arts addresses mental health issues in the content of its films and shows. My cabaret ‘Chameleon’ is all about how to maintain mental wellness! The films ‘Silver Linings Playbook’, ‘Charlie Bartlett’ and ‘Good Will Hunting’ all look at ordinary (and extraordinary!) people living with mental health issues, ‘Rain Man’ delves into autism, “A Beautiful Mind’ gazes into the eyes of schizophrenia, and ‘Girl Interrupted’ investigates the world of a psychiatric institution.

Girl Interrupted Winona
'Girl Interrupted'


Both the arts and mental health sectors are notoriously underfunded. How much does the Australian government spend on mental health and the arts? It’s interesting. In the 2019-20 financial year, only $11 billion on mental health. In the 2019–20 financial year, Australia's three levels of government spent $11.58 billion of public funds on arts and culture, representing 1.46 per cent of the total expenditure across all levels of government. So, in both cases, it is only a small amount compared to other expenses. We need the government to support both the arts and mental health more!

'Chameleon' plays at Redland Performing Arts Centre 23 April.

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