A Spotlight on Mental Health in the Music Industry

Posted on 20.05.2016

A Spotlight on Mental Health in the Music Industry

Photo by Paweł Marynowski / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0

A few years ago, mental health conditions weren’t oft-discussed in the music industry, aside from a few notable exceptions, such as The Beta Band’s Steve Mason who spoke about his mental health condition in 2008. But recently that’s started to change and an increasing number of artists are beginning to talk about the issue, to the extent that it can sometimes be hard to keep up! For Mental Health Awareness Week 2016, we provide an overview of who is speaking out and what’s being done.

Over the last year we’ve seen Florence Welch discuss her struggle with alcoholism, Years & Years’ Olly Alexander talk about his difficulties accessing mental health treatment, and Laura Mvula open up about her debilitating anxiety that left her unable to be left alone. Mvula’s experience is a good example of one reason that someone with a mental health condition might need a Personal Assistant to accompany them at an event or festival.

The industry isn’t immune from criticism either. DJ and producer Benga blames the breakdown that led him to be sectioned on the pressures of touring and the associated hedonistic lifestyle. And just this week Lauren Aquilina raised similar concerns about the pressures of an unstructured lifestyle and being in the public eye, admitting that “being an artist can be both incredible and horrible at the same time”.

Spurred on by this momentum, Noisey, in partnership with Help Musicians UK, have produced an excellent range of articles and films on the topic this week, from a candid discussion about what needs to change to a short film about anxiety and ambient music.

On one hand, it’s amazing that so many artists are now speaking out about this issue, but on the other, it simply illustrates the scale of the problem. A Help Musicians UK survey last year found that 67% of musicians suffered depression or other psychological problems – that’s more than 3 in 5, a significantly higher number than the 1 in 4 of the general population affected by mental health conditions. So what can be done?

What’s Being Done

Speaking to The Fader about the experiences that led her to leave Joanna Gruesome last year, Alanna McArdle highlights the positive impact of the support and understanding she received from her label and management. Happily, industry bodies such as the Music Managers Forum are recognising the problem and starting to provide managers with the resources they need to support artists – and other people working in the industry, who as MMF’s Diane Wagg notes in the Guardian, aren’t immune from mental distress either.

And today, at The Great Escape panel they are co-running, Help Musicians UK announced their Music and Depression campaign which aims to further the conversations about mental health in the industry, commissioning an academic study into the phenomenon and developing a comprehensive support service, due to launch in 2017.

Hopefully, we are witnessing the beginning of a more inclusive music industry that is more welcoming to all people experiencing mental health conditions – artists, audiences and industry professionals alike.