Help for Musicians with Mental Health Issues

Musicians - Photo by Jacek Dylag on Unsplash
Musicians – Photo by Jacek Dylag on Unsplash

As we know, issues around mental health can affect anybody at any time. But, recent studies have shown that people working in the music industry are more likely to experience mental health problems than the general population. One survey found that an astonishing 80 percent of musicians suffer feelings of depression, anxiety and stress

Some of the most iconic names in music have made huge strides in helping to destigmatize mental health issues both in the industry and across wider society. From Adele speaking on her struggles with postpartum depression, to Ed Sheeran revealing he suffers from social anxiety, it’s becoming the norm for artists to open up about mental health. 

Whilst it’s a positive thing that more musicians are feeling comfortable sharing their experiences, it’s alarming how commonly these issues are arising. From the stars performing on the biggest stages in the world, to the pianist plying his trade on the New York subway, no one is immune from mental health issues. But what are the most common concerns that are arising within the industry, and what’s being done to help support the world’s musical talents?

Musicians and anxiety 

In a Help Musicians survey, just over 71 percent of respondents who work in the music industry stated that they thought they had experienced panic attacks and/or high levels of anxiety. 

There are a number of different things that can contribute to feelings of anxiety, but concerns over financial security can be one of the most prominent. Unfortunately, when starting out in the music industry, regular income is not guaranteed, and artists will rely heavily on performances and shows to pay the bills. Not only can this lack of financial security exacerbate feelings of anxiety, it can also make it harder to maintain good personal care, and might promote more unhealthy diet or lifestyle choices. In turn, this can lead to physical health struggles, too.   

Experiencing stress as a musician

For millions of people, listening to music is a form of escapism, and it’s even been said to reduce levels of stress hormones. Whilst we all reap the benefits that music can offer, for the artists producing it, the story isn’t always so positive.  

For the biggest artists in the world, there is an expectation that they will produce a constant stream of new music, which alone puts an immense amount of pressure on the individual. Not only do they need to perform in the studio, but also in a live environment, when thousands of people will have spent their hard-earned money to see them. These factors can make the musician feel a sense of stress over the personal responsibility they feel that they have to their fans.

Mental fortitude and depression 

As it does with any career path, trying to break into the industry typically requires lots of mental fortitude. Lots of doors will be closed before one opens, and you will likely have to deal with being told you’re not good enough on a regular basis. Whilst this can be difficult to hear in relation to your prior work experience when looking for ‘normal’ jobs, when it’s directly related to your skill level, it can affect people in a different way as they struggle to feel good enough. 

The irregular working hours of musicians can drastically affect other aspects of their lives. For instance, perhaps it means they get to spend less time with their friends and family, or maybe it’s impacting their sleep health, which can cause further harm to their mental health. There might also be an overriding sense of guilt, having to rely financially on family or partners whilst pursuing their dream. This can ultimately damage their self-esteem and lead to further problems. 

How to find help

Fortunately, there has been a greater emphasis in recent years placed on the importance of addressing the issue in the industry, as more and more performers continue to open up about their struggles.

Beyond the mental health charities that offer support to the general population, there are many organizations set up to specifically help musicians and artists. For example, MusiCares acts as a safety net for musicians, providing financial, medical, and psychological support when needed. One of the key areas they focus on is mental health and addiction recovery, offering referrals and emergency financial assistance should they need additional care.

Joe Barnby is a researcher at King’s College London, specialising in neuroscience and the psychology of belief. He recommends having a team member on board whose sole responsibility is offering psychological support, giving band members the opportunity to talk about their feelings in a non-judgmental environment. 

Talking therapies can be another useful way to help overcome mental health issues. Approaches like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) encourage you to challenge and reframe negative thoughts, helping to shift the individual into a more positive state of mind. For example, if someone was struggling with anxiety around performing live, they might work with their therapist to establish why they feel that way and the physical symptoms that they get. They would then try to challenge any negative beliefs and retrain themselves to think differently about performing live.

The Musicians Union has a lot of useful links for musicians trying to cope with mental health issues as does Function Central.

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