Understanding mental health politics

When confronting the matter of mental health in the music industry we need to measure how easy or difficult it could be to get help and support. In recent times, mental health awareness has increased worldwide and we certainly know more than what we did 20 or 30 years ago; nevertheless, it is important to understand that for public figures, reaching for help could be harder than we think.

Artists often start to abuse alcohol or substances to numb the pains of life on the road. On most occasions, an international touring artist will have to face several months away from family and friends and will have to withstand the pressure of having to give 100% in front of an ever-changing audience; for emerging acts, most of the shows struggle to break even. “Many people who become performers do so to fulfil the need for acceptance and love from their fans” says Helienne Lindvall. “They need that affirmation to be able to feel good. But having a love affair with thousands of people you don't know is bound to lead to dissatisfaction, heartbreak and disappointment – often as soon as you leave the stage, or go home to an empty house.”

When help is provided, it usually translates into pharmaceutical solutions that are often unhelpful. The alternative non-pharmacological help, if outside of the NHS system, can be very expensive. Not to mention the stigma that surrounds Barbiturates or anti-depressants at large in history, having been often the last straw or suicide media of many artists such as Nick Drake, Marilyn Monroe, and Judy Garland to name just a few.

Those who work in the arts are five times more likely to suffer from depression. Often what makes an artist great is the fact that they’re more emotionally sensitive than the average person, and this might be the reason why some might worry that receiving medical help would stifle their creativity or render their output less interesting, thus making them less able to handle the pressure of the music industry.

When in a leading position it can be extremely difficult to ask for help but it is equally hard when an artist is working their way up because it can be seen as a sign of weakness and it could shrink one’s chances of progressing further. The music industry is however one of the most unequipped in terms of awareness, understanding and support. Something to always keep in mind is that depression, addiction and mental illnesses are too debilitating to allow an artist to create anything at all. Lindvall affirms that “maybe the key to being a great artist and songwriter with a long and happy life is to dare to go to those dark places without making them our home.“

Being an artist and public figure nowadays means being constantly active on social networks. Even though most established acts rely on social media management, such help is often found further down the line in an artist career. For an unsigned or DIY artist, if the activity and presence don’t pay off with likes and new followers, it’s easy to feel abandoned and rejected. Rather than a “win-win” situation, the use of social media for an artist seems to be a negative experience either way.

It would be great to introduce counselling professionals into the music industry along with a stronger awareness of mental illnesses: this would help create a better environment for both the creative side and the business side of music professionals. Furthermore, it would help to raise awareness of the dangers of social media abuse, particularly in this age of social media domination: although artists need said platforms to grow, it is important to help new acts understand that the true value of music is measured on stage and not on the amount of digital “approval seals”.