Music and Mental Health

Can music make you ill?

This was a question I was faced with recently. With Mental Health Awareness Week coming up in May I thought I would speak about my opinions and also my own experiences. After all ‘Its time to talk’
According to Help Musicians UK, in the largest known academic study of its kind, a survey of over 2,200 people in the music industry revealed that musicians are 3 times more likely to experience a mental health condition compared to the general public. This can be down to money worries due to poor pay, expensive equipment and unpaid travel expenses, as well as juggling several jobs to pay for their music career, poor working conditions, sexual abuse, bullying and discrimination the study explained. The report’s publication follows the launch of an initiative aimed at raising awareness of the mental health challenges faced by those in the entertainment industry. 
Help Musicians UK said;
It’s clear that for all its rewards, the lifestyle of a professional musician can carry with it a number of challenges to health and wellbeing… We want musicians to enjoy full, active, healthy careers and achieve their potential so we can all continue to enjoy a thriving musical culture in the UK.”
As a part time musician I would like to shed some light on these issues. What I have to say is based purely on my personal experiences in the industry. I, of course, understand that everyone is different and can react differently to a situation.

If we look at the financial aspects of being a musician, It’s fair to say that money in the music industry varies. It is not the easiest thing in the world to make a living as a full time musician until you’re very well established. Session musicians and part time players may have to work a part time job on top of rehearsals and gigs which can become very stressful and hard to balance. For the most part there are two spectrums of finances in the music industry, you have the struggling band who barely make ends meet, every penny goes on their music, or you have a successful musician making a lot of money through gig entry fees, music sales and merchandise.

Packing £5,000 worth of equipment into your £500 car, travelling 150 miles to play a gig that pays £50, pay rarely meets expenses. That said it’s a choice, and it’s a choice that you have to make to become successful in the music industry, but it is a choice that you can step out of to return to the ‘real world’, find work and make ends meet.

Let’s say for a moment that this is in fact one of the main reasons a musician may suffer from depression… That does not explain the number of hugely successful musicians who suffer from a mental health condition. Kurt Cobain is an example of this, and more recently Chester Bennington from the band Linkin Park who sadly took his own life. These are successful musicians who are wealthy, so money is not a cause of their mental health problems.

Sexual abuse, bullying and discrimination – these are things that can be experienced in all areas of life, at any age and any workplace. It is something that is completely unacceptable and should be taken very seriously – on a stage or in an office or a school. But if this is a cause then why are musicians more likely to experience depression if you can experience the above in all areas of work? 

Drugs and alcohol are also mentioned as links to the causes of mental health for musicians. While 45% of those surveyed have experienced problems with alcohol, only around 7% say it is a frequent problem. Just 25% report problems with drug or substance abuse, with less than 2% saying this is a frequent problem.
During my research for this I spoke to the Dark Juan from Carmarthenshire band DoomCrow, he said;
”  Music, for me, was and is a massive relief from mental health issues and an escape from pressure. I suffer from borderline personality disorder, avoidant personality disorder, clinical depression and social anxiety. Music, as a listener, gives me the chance to put on headphones and shut my eyes and soothe myself. As a performer, I literally had a mask I could hide behind. I felt calm behind that mask, otherwise playing would have involved me getting hammered first. Music as a listener and a performer helps me immensely with my mental health issues – it gives me focus and helps me relax and cope with life. Without music I would be in a terrible place in my life
I also spoke to my fellow Stargazer journalist Nia who said;
”  Mental illness can be a problem for any individual – no matter how well off you are – because its an illness just like any other. The difference is that if you are a musician, it’s more public, it’s more noticeable to fans, or whether you place all of your feelings and emotions in your music as some sort of therapeutic technique. If you are in the public eye, it’s harder to try and hide your illness from everyone, which is what most people would do. But yet again, most people can find some sort of self-soothing technique unlike most musicians who can find that with their music ”  

Nia raises a good point, and adding to that, do we as musician feel more of a need to hide any sort of mental illness to try to seem stronger to those fans who look up to us. Bottling up feelings and emotions is what makes a mental illness so deadly.
Here’s my thought on music and mental health, from a musician who has suffered with depression. I accept that there is a correlation between music and mental health, but I do not for a minute believe that music is to blame for a mental health condition – I do however completely believe that people who may suffer from a mental health condition could be more drawn to music. Music is an escape. To be able to write down your thoughts and feelings and turn them into art is exhilarating. Whether you are singing in you bedroom to your reflection in the mirror, or on a stage to 10,000 people, for that period of time you are completely transported to a world where everything else is forgotten.

The problem I see is after the gig, exiting the stage, in the car on the way home or the next day after a gig. Coming back to the real word after that experience is a major come down, it’s hard. Being on stage is such a release, but delivering your message, your story to other people who may be in a similar situation is a great feeling. Music isn’t a cause, it’s a coping mechanism.

Musicians are 3 times more likely to experience depression, because they create music to escape their depression.

Music gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything.
If you are suffering from any kind of mental health condition – talk about it!
Its ok not to be ok, but please, speak to a friend, family member, or one of the organisations below.

We are one community, one family and we need to be there for each other. There is always someone to talk to.


                                                                                                               © Stargazer Music Magazine 2020

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