Mental health of musicians must be looked at in a whole new light says Getintothis’ Diego Collins as he takes a personal perspective on this massive issue.
In December 2018 a video started to circulate on social media, a singer doing his job in the legendary Cavern pub was essentially upended by the legs in the middle of a song.
The video spread far and wide, even reaching the USA on Facebook groups and Twitter. The overriding feeling is what the bloody hell? Being attacked on stage in such a venue as the Cavern?
What’s interesting about this video is the lack of shock by the person filming it, leading some to speculate that the person filming is ‘in on the job’.
Suspiciously, it starts and ends before the musician gets his justice on the attacker, which it is understood was thoroughly deserved. Why this attack took place is still a mystery.
This is a piece about more than that incident though.
What price do musicians pay in mental health, for what they do?
Some shocking research shows that musicians have a much shorter expected lifespan than the average worker, averaging a lifespan of 20 years lower than that of the general population, and is dependent on genre as well.
Additionally, musicians have a lower chance of happiness and maintaining long-lasting relationships than that of the general population.
Further research has shown not only is mental health a significant factor in early deaths in the general population of the UK, it is more pronounced in people in the music industry, data collected from a wide survey which can be found here
As a creative myself, it is sad to admit I have known five people, all male, who have taken their own lives, and 4 of them were in music related work.
The incidence of suicide is not the only factor in mental health problems- it can come from excess of drugs and drink, long hours, poor pay and constant critique as well. Being a musician is one of the most insecure lifestyles one can lead, and is not respected well in the bourgeoisie community.
The issue to discuss really is one of support. Why are musicians and artists given so little?
In the course of doing research some discoveries have been made: that is it is perhaps the very nature of the art that comes from mental distress.
A need to express yourself perhaps? To discuss painful or emotional things? Or a rebellious phase of abandonment, and simple recklessness?
As any musician will tell you, it runs far deeper than that. It’s simply a part of who we are as people. This applies to any level of ability and it does not matter what age you are.
The mental well-being of musicians at all levels seems to be fairly consistently poor.
It doesn’t seem to matter if you’re a busker on the street, a bedroom producer, singer in a bar or a chart-topping success, the same issues come up time and again and specifically what appears to be bullying, abuse, belittling, and sexism.
Far outstripping that is also a lack of a support network, or the feeling that you can reach out to family and friends for what in a normal workplace would be intolerable behaviour by colleagues, and associates.
Such examples of this include extreme harassment online from trolling (in some instances, even threats of violence and people urging their target to take their own life), negative comments about appearance and attitudes, sexual abuse within the industry and, as I opened in this article, even actual violence and abuse at events in person.
These combine to have a severe effect on the victim: at the very least it damages confidence and at the very worst all the way to excess of drink and drugs, depression and suicide.
In a normal profession such attitudes would be dealt with inside of a corporate structure, or by using disciplinary measures to combat this, but in music there is no such rule book to prevent this from happening- and all too often it is too late- as the 27 club shows.
There is also a competitive element to what we do. It is without a doubt, upsetting to see someone with half your talent making a name for themselves, when you sit there trying to make last week’s pasta edible.
Why would you then, help anyone else? And why do YOU have to suffer so much?
More than that, while you are suffering, your other musician friends are too, and you have limited resources to help them.
So what is to be done?
In the age of Tory austerity, we live now in a world of they have more, you have nothing. Musicians always have what they do, it is core to what they actually are, and this should always be respected.
Mental health problems are rife in the music industry and working with someone bipolar, autistic, depressed or schizophrenic is not unusual. What is worrying is how the tide can turn on such people, and very fast, without reason or provocation.
I can quote many examples of this type of attitude, which in one case for me personally partly contributed to a man’s death.
But I hardly need to – anyone as a musician knows that you cannot win. Calmly walking away from the insults means that you are not being true, argue back and you are just making it worse. A true Catch 22 if there ever was one.
Beyond the obvious, musical ability is always correlated with caring and love for other people, that often results in rejection.
Ironically, the very nature of musicians, the core essence if you will, probably makes us the biggest empaths in the world; we see suffering, feel it ourselves, then write about it forevermore.
Perhaps, it should be noted that it is not egotistical to do so – and that in doing these things, writing and publishing the art, we are in fact making the biggest statement you can – publicly acknowledging deep pain, sorrow, happiness, joy and all the other emotions you can’t put into words.
It is perhaps the purest way of speaking to someone else, the language barrier doesn’t matter. Music crosses it all – which is fantastic. I think that we have to stick together in the coming years.
Music should remain a passion, escape and a place we can all call home.
The people listening also take what we do by example, and as musicians we should actually think before slinging mud at each other. It does stick, and it does get seen. No one needs that, and it’s important to recognise that private can become public very easily now.
There are a number of new resources available to musicians in particular that are set up to cope with the unique challenges we face.
Of particular note here is Music Minds Matter, set up specifically to support musicians mental health. It is now more than ever that musicians require help and support in what we do, beyond just being appreciated.
It’s no surprise that the term ‘gig economy’ is now used to describe any unstable work – this probably sums up how this industry is viewed, and not without good reason.
It is my hope that collectively and individually we can make things better for ourselves, and not play blame games. When you point the finger, there are three pointed back at you, a saying that should resonate with anyone working today in this business – just think before you judge others too harshly, as their struggle may be bigger than you realise.