Mental health: top tips for performers
Anna Albright
Rational Emotive Cognitive Behavioural Therapist
25th May 2016
Mental health: top tips for performers

You may have seen the statistics by now – 1 in 4 of us will experience mental illness in our lifetime. But what you may not know is that mental health issues are not just more prevalent in certain socio-economic sectors but in professions!

You heard right. In a recent list of the top 10 professions likely to suffer depression by Health.com, creatives ranked at number 6 – sandwiched between nurses, doctors and teachers.  

There’s no shortage of influential musicians in that group whether classical or contemporary: Robert Schuman, Kurt Cobain, Nick Drake, Sinead O’Connor, Brian Wilson, Mozart, Ian Curtis, Tchaikovsky.

Understandably there’s a lot of speculation as to why there is such a strong correlation between creatives and mental illness.

Are those with mood disorders more likely to be drawn to the arts? Does the freedom of expression allow for more extreme personalities? Is the actual job a trigger – with its unsocial hours and unpredictable income.  However, discovering the why is only of limited benefit.

Of far greater benefit is how to tackle the slings and arrows of mental illness.

As a cognitive behaviour therapist (CBT) I treat mental illness daily and would like to share some advice I give to all my clients.

REJECT STIGMA

Mental illness is real and it isn’t at all choosy. It affects people indiscriminately and in my experience sometimes when they least expect it. But everything was going so well! I sometimes hear. Well that’s what happens. Remember you can’t summon it up at will and make yourself mentally ill any more than you can make yourself have epilepsy.

Despite this there is still a stigma attached to mental illness, however, the good news is that it is steadily diminishing, not least of all by everyone talking about it, raising money for it and putting it on the public and political agenda. Mental illness is becoming legitimised.

STAY CONNECTED

As a musician you might well spend large chunks of time alone, however, if you are mentally unwell it is important to make the effort to connect with others. This illness thrives on isolation. Connect with others and you will deprive it of some vital oxygen.

GETTING HELP WILL HELP

The rest of the medical profession see mental illness as a physical illness so why don’t you? It’s not a rare tropical disease and guess what? It is eminently treatable.

The two professionals who treat the illness are psychotherapists (talk therapy) and psychiatrists (who talk and prescribe necessary medication).

It is helpful to remember:  

  • Talk therapy teaches you skills to cope with the illness and straighten out thinking problems.
  • Medication tackles the symptoms of the illness.
  • It is not uncommon for musicians to be hesitant to seek help as they may fear that treating the illness will compromise their ability to feel and therefore create or perform as their true selves.

Whilst that might be a fear - it is important to remember that mental illness can become so debilitating that work is impossible.

YOU DON’T HAVE TO TELL THE WORLD

Just because mental illness is becoming more recognised by society doesn’t mean you have to feel ‘outed’ if you seek help.

Many of the creatives I treat are exuberant characters in public but privately are rather shy.

You remain the same person you were before seeking help and whether you choose to share your illness with friends, family and colleagues is up to you. But it’s worth knowing that the more people you do confide in, the more support you are likely to have when you need it most.

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Mandhira
Who we have helped

“Help Musicians UK supported me emotionally and financially through serious illness.  They also helped my string quartet, the Ligeti Quartet, expand into Europe through their awards programme.”

Mandhira, 34, Violinist
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