Music boosts our cognitive abilities, helps us to relax, stimulates us and makes us feel a plethora of emotions untouched by other activities. Its applications when it comes to aiding those with mental illnesses are well documented and the library of papers discussing its benefits is vast. However, this does not mean that we should cease looking at the connection between music and mental health once the music stops. Instead, we need to look at the minds of the musicians who write and perform the music that we play in our time of need.
Last year, the charity Help Musicians UK conducted a study to figure out just how many musicians suffer from mental health issues, including depression, paranoia and anxiety. 67% of those who replied said that they had suffered from either depression or another psychological problem, 75% said that they had experienced performance anxiety, and 62% said that they had experienced relationship difficulties. The study also found that touring was one of the biggest causes of these problems, with 71% claiming that touring had played a major factor in their issues.
Public perception places drinking, drugs and sexual activity above healthy living and a secure routine
A number of musicians have noted that the steep contrast between the high that comes with a successful show and the low of the anti-climatic aftermath leads to situations that can be near impossible to adjust to. This phenomenon, known as “post-performance depression”, or PPD, leads to major shifts in mood and can often lead to a depressive state. The biochemistry of the body becomes distorted, as sheer number of hormones released during a performance leads to an irregular distribution within the body, making it almost impossible to revert to a standard norm. This leads to problems with the musician’s private life, and, with many concerts taking place in the evening, a disrupted working schedule, which has linked many musicians to fatigue-related illnesses.
For some musicians, the effects can become too much for them to bear. Earlier this year, After the Burial guitarist Justin Lowe was found dead at the age of just 32. Lowe had recently left the band after suffering from a breakdown that left him paranoid and terrified that his record label was attempting to ruin his life. Scott Stapp, the frontman of Post-Grunge band Creed, suffered from a similar breakdown last year.
So what are the problems? Well, one of the biggest issues is that the life of a musician is counterintuitive to the idea of wellbeing. Public perception places drinking, drugs and sexual activity above healthy living and a secure routine, factors which can drastically increase the likelihood of musicians suffering from a mental breakdown.
Indeed, whilst the opposition to drug use within the world of popular music has increased over the years, its relationship with affluence and success means that many successful musicians are presented with pills and swills as an easy escape from the pressure. The same applies to alcohol. I highly doubt that there is any need for me to list off the names of all of the artists who have died from drug and alcohol-related causes. Even today, Pastoral Care for a lot of artists focuses more upon cheap thrills than it does upon actually ensuring their wellbeing.
The problem is made even greater by our tendency to romanticise these deaths [Curtis and Cobain]. Both frontmen became martyrs to their respective genres
Secondly, professional help still has some way to go. Depression and Bipolar Disorder, although many would argue have been driving factors behind the creativity of some musicians, have, as expected, hurt far more than they have helped. Ian Curtis and Kurt Cobain are some of the most notable musicians to have suffered from either depression or bipolar disorder, with each unable to receive the help that they required. The problem is made even greater by our tendency to romanticise these deaths. Both frontmen became martyrs to their respective genres, which leads us to mask the tragedy in perceived beauty.
Whilst 48% of the musicians surveyed by Help Musicians UK were able to obtain professional help, many found that the professionals they talked to were unable provide them with a familiar enough basis with which to feel comfortable with, which is no surprise, seeing as to how far removed the lives of a psychologist and musician’s is.
Indeed, half of those who took part in the survey noted that the most successful forms of treatment arrived through private practice as opposed to the NHS, suggesting that it is unable to cope with the unique problems attributed to musicians. This is concerning. Many professional musicians, especially younger ones, find it difficult to make ends meet. According to The Working Musicians Report, more than half of the musicians working today earn less than £20,000 a year. As such, the high cost of private treatment can thus lead to either financial problems or an avoidance of treatment, both of which can have detrimental effects on a person’s mental wellbeing. In addition, a lack of treatment makes it even harder for them to secure a stable second job to support their career in the music industry, thus putting them in even greater jeopardy.
Nevertheless, the problems are being addressed, albeit slowly. Labour MP Simon Danczuk has long been supportive of increased mental support for musicians, and with the campaign for mental health to receive the same level of attention as physical health, it is possible that, sometime in the near future, we can finally give these problems the attention that they require.