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Newletter Editorial #133 – Musicians’ Mental Health: No Longer Taboo – MusicTank

Newletter Editorial #133 - Musicians’ Mental Health: No Longer Taboo

19 Oct 2017

Credits: Geralt @ Pixabay

On Monday, MusicTank published the second part of its ground-breaking research into musicians’ mental health, conducted by Sally Gross and Dr. George Musgrave of University of Westminster. ‘Can Music Make You Sick?’ is an accomplished piece of work, distinguished by it being the world’s largest known academic study into music and mental health, its publication marking the end of this year-long study into anxiety and depression as experienced by both musicians and music industry professionals.

Commissioned by independent music charity, Help Musicians UK launched this study at the Great Escape, May 2016 with a survey that went on to harvest a staggering 2,211 pan-industry responses.

The pilot study’s findings were as startling as they were compelling, finding that in pursuit of their music ambition:

  • 71% of respondents reported having experienced anxiety
  • 68% or respondents having suffered from depression.

Set against Office for National Statistics data, this pilot study found that the music community may be up to three times more likely to experience depression compared to the general public.

Given the severity of these findings, Help Musicians determined to put this issue centre stage by commissioning a deeper piece of analysis that would inform their policy direction and service delivery of a suite of mental health support services.

This second research phase, published this week, provided crucial insight into the scale of the problem of musician’s mental health challenges and how this can be further impacted by a career in music, in order to find out how the charity could help and support those that need it most in the music community.

Research key insights:

  • Money worries – A career in music is often precarious and unpredictable. Many musicians have several different jobs as part of a portfolio career, and as a result get little time to take a break. Musicians can also find it hard to access affordable professional help for mental health issues.
  • Poor working conditions – Music makers can be reflective and highly self-critical, and exist in an environment of constant critical feedback. As many musicians are self-employed, their work can result in feelings of isolation when it comes to dealing with mental health problems.
  • Relationship challenges – Family, friends and partners play an important role in supporting musicians, but these relationships can come under huge pressure and strain.
  • Sexual abuse/bullying/discrimination – Musicians’ working environment can be anti-social and unsympathetic, with some experiencing sexual abuse, harassment, bullying and coercion. 

This latest publication was timed to coincide with Help Musicians UK’s launch of Music Minds Matter mental health service for anyone working in the music industry.


Part 1: Pilot Study and Report

A 41-page report detailing the summary findings from 2,211 survey respondents; features 4 musician case studies with concert pianist James Rhodes, artist Laura Aquilina, Drum & Bass MC, songwriter and producer Conrad Thompson and William Doyle (artist previous known as East India Youth)

Part 2: Qualitative Study and Recommendations

This 40-page report details qualitative analysis and findings from interviews with 26 musicians drawn from the pilot survey who were asked how their working conditions impacted on their mental health and general wellbeing.

We are indebted to those of you who completed the online survey with such openness, taken aback as we were by the level of interest in this topic at a time of heightened career uncertainty experienced by an ever-increasing number of music professionals. We hope that this research can spark a wider debate both in the music industry about the welfare of those at its heart, and more generally about the challenging nature of precarious work.

With other organisations such as Music Support doing great work in this space including safe tents at festivals, our hope is that cross-industry consensus may be reached, whereby acknowledgement and treatment of mental health issues is put centre-stage, and resourced appropriately.

Of equal importance, however, is the need for urgent change to working practices that give rise to some of these conditions in the first place – addressing the causes of bad mental health, not just the symptoms, is the responsibility of each and everyone of us.

Editorial by Jonathan Robinson

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