Our Help and Advice manager Nigel Hamilton discusses mental health within the music industry, why there is such a stigma around it and how Help Musicians UK can support those who suffer.
It’s World Mental Health Day on Saturday 10 October so it’s an important time to talk about and raise awareness of mental health in the music industry
It can be a tricky topic. For many musicians, especially freelancers, there’s always the fear of being open about anything that might have stigma attached or suggest frailty or unreliability, regardless of how justified that fear is. And we don’t want to be promoting stereotypes of neurotic, miserable or tragic geniuses. There is no evidence from research that the stereotype has any basis.
But two things can be said with certainty.
The first is that one in four of all of us, whatever our profession, will experience some sort of mental health difficulty at some time, and musicians are not immune from that.
The second is that there are specific things about the life of a musician that can either cause particular pressures on mental health, or present particular challenges in coping with mental health issues which have their origin elsewhere.
Mental health in the music industry has recently become a hot topic of discussion and has been covered extensively, with focus on cases such as the tragedy of Amy Winehouse’s death, or the revelation that Brian Harvey of E17 suffers clinical depression, and most recently, the article from dupstep king Benga, who openly talks about his bi-polar disorder and schizophrenia. While high profile cases like these rightly attract attention we also need to reach out and support the large numbers of working musicians living with these challenges.
When we did a survey of musicians’ health and wellbeing last year
- 67% said they had on occasion suffered depression or other psychological problems
- 75% said they had experienced performance anxiety
- 68% said they had experienced loneliness or separation from family and friends
- 62% said they had experienced relationship difficulties
This is perhaps not surprising, as well over three quarters said they were affected by anti-social working hours, money problems and work insecurity.
Of course being a performer has very particular pressures. The large number of musicians reporting occasional or chronic performance anxiety is striking. There’s also an increasing awareness of Post-Performance Depression – difficulty “coming down” after a performance. There’s more about this in a really interesting article about the pressures of touring published by the Guardian in June.
So what can we do?
Well, one thing is to get the issue out into the open, to get people talking about it. Musicians are notorious for soldiering on. Less than half of the musicians who took our survey had ever sought professional help with the issues they reported.
This may not just be about “the show must go on”, or fear of stigma. It can also be because people don’t know where to turn, or have in the past found primary care or other services unresponsive to their particular needs or problems. That’s why we are always here. We can often help you find a way of getting the right support, and may be able to assist if financial hardship is a problem, for instance if you can’t afford counselling or therapy.
We work with our partners at BAPAM, who provide specialist care for performers to help them find the support they need, and to increase awareness of musicians needs within the health professions. We are always looking at ways to improve our service and extend the help we offer. So if you have any thoughts on how we could better help musicians, get in touch!