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Help Musicians UK announces results of mental health in music survey

By | Published on Tuesday 1 November 2016

Help Musicians UK

Help Musicians UK has this morning published the findings of its research into the mental health of musicians and people working in the wider music industry. It shows that 71% of respondents believed they had experienced anxiety, while 65% had dealt with depression.

There were arguably a number of flaws with the survey used to collect this data – not least that the campaign promoting it was called Music And Depression, or MAD for short, potentially putting off many of the people whose input would be most valuable (seriously, try running that name past a mental health professional today). However, the findings do highlight serious problems in the music industry that have traditionally been swept under the rug, or worse celebrated as some sort of artistic badge of honour.

Of 2221 respondents, 39% identified as musicians, while 54.8% felt that there was not enough support available for music makers. Nevertheless, less than half (46.6%) felt that there should actually be a dedicated counselling service for musicians – though this would perhaps have been higher if people were more aware that traditional services struggle to offer advice based on the unique cycle of highs and lows in which musicians find themselves.

As one musician put it in their response to the survey: “My depression is made worse by trying to exist as a musician. Rarely has playing music been detrimental to my health, quite the opposite, but the industry and socio-economic pressures make this a fucking shitty industry to try and make a living in”.

Mental health in music has been a more prominent topic this year, with a number of high profile musicians discussing the challenges they have faced. As previously reported, Zayn Malik earlier this year cancelled a number of solo sets, citing “extreme anxiety around major live solo performances”. And now he has written in his upcoming autobiography about issues surrounding eating during his time in One Direction.

“When I look back at images of myself from around November 2014, before the final tour, I can see how ill I was”, he writes in the book. “Something I’ve never talked about in public before, but which I have come to terms with since leaving the band, is that I was suffering from an eating disorder. I’d just go for days – sometimes two or three days straight – without eating anything at all. It got quite serious, although at the time I didn’t recognise it for what it was. I didn’t feel like I had control over anything else in my life, but food was something I could control, so I did”.

On going public about his anxiety, he adds: “One of my team members offered to write a statement saying that I’d been taken ill, but I didn’t want to do that. I was done with putting out statements that masked what was really going on. I wanted to tell the truth. Anxiety is nothing to be ashamed of; it affects millions of people every day. I know I have fans out there who have been through this kind of thing, too, and I wanted to be honest for their sake, if nothing else”.

“When I was in One Direction, my anxiety issues were huge but, within the safety net of the band, they were at least manageable”, he adds. “As a solo performer, I felt much more exposed, and the psychological stress of performing had just gotten to be too much for me to handle – at that moment, at least. Rather than hiding away, sugar-coating it, I knew I had to put it all out there”.

Elsewhere, in a new interview with Vanity Fair, Adele has spoken about her post-natal depression following the birth of her son Angelo, and ongoing issues with trying to balance being a parent and a working musician.

“I’m enjoying touring, but at times I feel guilty because I’m doing this massive tour, and even though my son is with me all the time, on certain nights I can’t put him to bed”, she says. “I never feel guilty when I’m not working. You’re constantly trying to make up for stuff when you’re a mum. I don’t mind, because of the love I feel for him”.

Commenting on its new research, Chief Executive of Help Musicians UK Richard Robinson says: “Sadly the results of this survey don’t come as a surprise and paint a concerning picture of the conditions for those working in the music industry. This survey is a vital first step in helping us to establish the scale of the problem and it highlights the importance of the next phases of the survey, which will provide us with recommendations for launching the first music industry specific mental health service”.

Further results from the survey are due to be announced early next year.