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Demand for Help Musicians mental health support line doubles during COVID shutdown

By | Published on Friday 8 October 2021

Help Musicians

The mental health support line run by Help Musicians has seen demand nearly double this year, the music charity has revealed, confirming the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the well-being of the music community.

By the time full capacity shows returned in England in July, the UK live sector had been in virtual shutdown for nearly sixteen months, with only socially distanced shows possible during the slight relaxation of the rules in summer and autumn 2020. The number of such socially distanced shows was relatively low, and many struggled to break even when operating with capacities sufficiently reduced to comply with the regulations.

And, of course, the revival of the live industry has only just begun, with restrictions being lifted slower in Scotland and Wales, and especially Northern Ireland, where full-on gigs aren’t set to return until the end of the month. Meanwhile ongoing travel restrictions, and the variations in COVID rules in different countries and regions, means the business of touring is far from back to normal.

For many artists, live performance is the key revenue stream, meaning that the live music shutdown had a major impact on their income. Plus at various points COVID also stopped the studio work and educational projects that also provide important revenue for music-makers. Making matters worse, some musicians fell into the gap of government-provided COVID financial support for freelancers in the UK.

It is no surprise, therefore, that all the financial concerns COVID created – and the constant uncertainty of how long the pandemic would continue to impact on live performance – has negatively impacted on the mental health of many musicians. Though it’s not just financial concerns, with the “career uncertainty” and “loss of identity” caused by the pandemic also key factors.

Help Musicians launched its 24/7 Music Minds Matter phoneline – staffed by accredited therapists – in 2017, and then began expanding the mental health initiative in April this year, including via a new national network of local support groups. Help Musicians works in partnership with organisations like the British Association For Performing Arts Medicine to deliver the programme, while UK collecting society PPL is now a key financial backer.

Commenting on the increased need for services like Music Minds Matter over the last eighteen months, BAPAM CEO Claire Cordeaux says: “Musicians’ mental health needs have always been higher than the general population, but over the last eighteen months we have seen a significant increase in requests for mental health support caused by a combination of financial and career uncertainty, loss of identity and difficulty in getting access to mainstream mental health services. The challenge of being performance ready after this period should also not be underestimated”.

“We are delighted to be working with Help Musicians and PPL on this important project”, she adds. “Our clinical specialists all have experience of the performing arts and are well placed to deliver therapeutic support and to liaise with specialist services where necessary”.

Meanwhile, Help Musicians CEO James Ainscough says: “It’s so exciting to see live music gradually return, but the rising number of musicians seeking counselling in 2021 highlights that the mental health impact of the pandemic is far from over”.

“In what can already be a very challenging profession, the added pressures of the past eighteen months, and the uncertainty of what lies ahead while careers are re-built, has created the perfect storm for musicians and their teams who are battling to maintain their mental health”.

“The expansion of Music Minds Matter continues in earnest and we need as much support as we can get for this vital service to the entire music industry”, he goes on. “PPL’s support is crucial to ensuring we can meet the rising demand and we are incredibly grateful for their generosity and leadership”.

PPL chief Peter Leathem also comments, noting that the demand for the mental health support line nearly doubling “makes it clear that many in the music industry are still feeling the impact of a very difficult past eighteen months”.

“So as live music returns, nightclubs re-open and we return to offices and public spaces, we must continue to support those who are still in need”, he adds. “Music Minds Matter is playing a crucial role in this and we are very proud to help the service continue to deliver excellent care and expand its offer”.