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Career in music is damaging to mental health, new study finds

Musicians are three times more likely to experience depression, with many working under ‘poor conditions’, a new academic study from Help Musicians UK has found.

Anita Awbi
  • By Anita Awbi
  • 16 Oct 2017
  • min read
Musicians are three times more likely to experience depression, with many working under ‘poor conditions’, a new academic study from Help Musicians UK has found.

Can Music Make You Sick?, commissioned by the charity and undertaken by University of Westminster researchers Sally-Anne Gross and Dr. George Musgrave, offers insight into the scale of the mental health challenges facing Britain’s music industry.

In the largest known academic study of its kind, a survey of over 2,200 musicians revealed they are up to three times more likely to experience depression compared to the general public.

Money worries, due to precarious and unpredictable pay plus the juggling of many different jobs, can exacerbate the issue, with poor working conditions cited as a major issue.

Elsewhere, the report found sexual abuse, bullying and discrimination may also be prevalent, with a musician’s working environment prone to being antisocial and unsympathetic.

Social challenges were also cited as a contributing factor to declining mental health, as relationships with family, friends and partner often come under pressure.

The report was intended to shed light on areas Help Musicians UK and the wider industry can focus on to improve conditions for musicians, artists, songwriters, composers and producers.

To this end, the charity has made three pledges; to establish a music industry mental health taskforce, launch a 24/7 mental health service, Music Minds Matter, and finally, advocate change across the industry.

Christine Brown, director of external affairs at Help Musicians UK, said: ‘Help Musicians UK is uniquely placed to commission and share the results of this important, game-changing study. The charity granted nearly two million pounds last year to those that need it most in the industry, so it is a natural step to examine the key issues and make a call to action to help implement wider, lasting change in the industry, namely Help Musicians UK’s three key pledges.

‘The British music industry is in rude health and has a world class reputation – but to continue the long-term wellbeing of the industry and its workers, we aim to create a constructive forum for discussion, partnership and collaboration.

‘Through the new Music Minds Matter service, we are closer to providing the crucial support, advice and education the music community desperately needs. Together we can continue to chip away at the stigma, so that in the long term those working in the community never have to suffer in silence.’

Researchers Gross and Musgrave added: ‘This research is a crucial step forward in our understanding of the complex relationship between the working conditions of musicians and mental health conditions.

‘The honesty and poignancy of our interviewees has made possible this important work, and informed the service provision being implemented by Help Musicians UK, and for that we are truly thankful. We welcome the new service Music Minds Matter and 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.’

Can Music Make You Sick? summary reports can be viewed here.

Looking for help and support? Read our article You are not alone: help for musicians suffering mental health issues.

Read Gross’ recent comment piece for MMusic industry should work together to protect new and niche artists.