How to cope with mental health stress as a musician

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Talking about mental health is hard, but the music industry has started to open up in recent years. New voices and organisations continue to amplify and push the conversation forward, with stars like Beyoncé, James Blake and Adele sharing their own experiences and helping to make mental health a normal part of everyday conversation.

If you’re a musician reading this then there's a chance you may have developed a mental health condition at some point during your career. A 2019 study found that 73% of independent music makers have experienced symptoms, while a 2018 report from the Music Industry Research Association revealed that 50% of musicians reported symptoms of depression.

Here, we’ve put together some resources, for US and UK based musicians, that you may find helpful.

Mental wellbeing in crisis

The music industry already poses its own unique set of challenges, but with live music currently on hold and an uncertain future looming on the horizon, many of us will be feeling increased levels of stress and strain. Our mental wellbeing can be deeply affected by a crisis. “If you notice changes to your thoughts, feelings and behaviours that have an impact on your daily life, last two weeks or longer, or keep returning, speak to someone you trust,” offers Stephen Buckley, Head of Information at Mind. “Your doctor may be able to offer consultations via phone or online so check to see what they can do.”

Mental health help

Buckley suggests a number of things we can do to improve our mood and wellbeing, and these can be built into our daily routines. Where possible, physical activity plays an important role in helping to reduce levels of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. It also encourages the production of endorphins. “However, even something as simple as sitting by a window and watching the birds, or taking care of a pot plant, can be beneficial,” says Buckley. It’s also important to keep your mind stimulated, occupied and challenged. Buckley recommends setting aside time in your routine for this. Reading books, magazines and articles can help, along with listening to podcasts, watching films and doing puzzles.

Getting mental health support for musicians

Direct help for professionals working in the music industry is also at hand, with organisations covering everything from free support lines and funding to a variety of online resources, including this wellness starter pack.

  • Music Support is a UK charity that provides a helpline run by volunteers with personal experience of the music industry.
  • Music Minds Matter is a support line and service for the UK music community that operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with trained advisors offering free and confidential support. They also provide information and signposting to other specialist and clinical services.
  • In the US, Backline launched last year to protect music industry professionals and their families with mental health and wellness resources.

The following three black-owned platforms provide creative, community and wellness resources for people of colour:

Emergency funding

For music industry workers struggling with loss of earnings or experiencing financial hardship, there is funding available.

Mental health in music: reading material

If you’re keen to get a better handle on wellness in the music industry, then this excellent reading list curated by Equilibrium is a pretty comprehensive place to start. It contains a handpicked collection of articles exploring how the music industry is fighting the mental health crisis.

It’s important to know that experiencing some kind of mental health issues during your musical career is not uncommon. Remember that there is always somewhere you can turn to for help, and asking for help is the best thing you can do, both for yourself and your career.

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