Musicians' mental health is suffering - and it indicates a wider problem for the rest of us
The recent suicide of Frightened Rabbit's front-man Scott Hutchinson touched many both in the music industry and audience. An artist whose work had been wide-open about his own vulnerability and fragility - and enraptured millions by this means - seemed to have lost the battle with his own depression. Songs heal, but only so far.
A great Open Democracy column from Lydia Smith suggests that the fate of musicians, as warning-bells for the times, should concern all of us. An extract below:
Hutchison wasn’t alone in facing these problems. Around one in four people in the UK experience mental health issues each year, and this problem affects musicians disproportionately. A 2016 survey by the University of Westminster for the charity Help Musicians UK found that those working in music can be up to three times more likely to suffer from depression than the general public.
Addressing this problem isn’t just crucial for musicians; it’s crucial for the whole of society and the economy, and for our collective health and wellbeing, because we all benefit when the creative arts are thriving.
Mental health is complex and there are many factors that can impact our wellbeing, from our surroundings to our relationships. But the Westminster research highlighted something that many people already know only too well—that musicians face unique pressures.
Low and unpredictable pay and a lack of financial stability affect musicians’ mental health, and the uncertainties around employment go hand in hand with the pressure to be ‘creative on demand.’ Many are forced to juggle several jobs and often work away from home which can be exhausting and isolating. The absence of a regular routine along with poor sleep and bad eating habits all influence wellbeing.
“Being a musician has the impact of any self-employed job, you never switch off, everything is connected to your success; your relationships, your friendships and your social life,” Joe Tilson told me in a recent interview, a singer-songwriter from West Yorkshire. “At the time I never thought of music as the cause of any of my low points, I saw it as the escape and cure, that I was lucky to have it.
Now I’m looking back from a more balanced life of music, work and family, I can recognise that a lot of the things that caused me anxiety and dark times were as a result of my devotion to music. Maybe if being devoted to music was more widely accepted as a choice for a living, the less disconnect there would be from the majority of people.”
Lydia provides some excellent links for musicians and artists to hit, if they are struggling with their psychological mood:
- Help Musicians UK launched Music Minds Matter, a 24/7 nationwide mental health service for anyone working in the music industry. Despite government cuts to arts funding, the charity is increasing its support for various initiatives including the Musician’s Hearing Health Scheme and the Creative Programme, which supports emerging artists.
- Musicians can also access free health assessments through The British Association for Performing Arts Medicine (BAPAM)
- The charity Music Support offers help to anyone working in the music industry struggling with their mental health. It also provides ‘safe tents’ at music festivals for artists and those working backstage to address issues that may come up while on tour.
- Mind, the national mental health charity, also provides advice and support.
But she also expands the issue out towards just how life-affirming (and health-inducing) the presence of musicians are to our collective lives:
None of this is just an issue for individual musicians; protecting them and their ability to make music is also crucial for the health and creativity of society as a whole. We often express our innermost emotions and feelings through music and communicate to others what isn’t always possible in words. Listening to music has a major, positive impact on our mental health, in part because it releases dopamine, a neurochemical that’s linked to wellbeing.
Music lessons in schools also have huge benefits for children, boosting their happiness, self-esteem, concentration, numeracy and language skills. “The positive impact of art and culture on society can’t be overstated,” Ruth Kilpatrick told me, who works with the ‘PRS for Music Fund,’ a charity providing financial help and support to members of PRS, the UK’s music licensing organisation.
“Human beings thrive on connection and shared experience, a feeling of belonging and a sense of purpose. Music, art and culture in general all connect us to a common thread and deserve to be valued as such.”