Musicians Dealing with Depression in the UK

An article posted by Classic fM (and other sites) that has been making its rounds throughout social media the past month is giving us a little more insight into the number of working musicians that suffer with anxiety and/or depression. This study was conducted by the University of Westminster in conjunction with Help Musicians UK, a charity based in London, surveying over 2,000 musicians concerning mental health. According to the findings, over 70% of the musicians surveyed at some point suffered from anxiety or panic attacks, and roughly 68% stated that they had dealt with depression. These are staggering numbers that should not surprise anyone in the business, especially on the academic or orchestral side. We know first-hand how difficult it is to find any job that pays a livable wage, let alone one within the field of music.

As someone who has dealt with this issue (and really is still dealing with it…), I can honestly say that the combination of the guilt that you feel for not being able to provide for your family coupled with the anxiety of not having a steady paycheck is a suffocating feeling. You’ve done everything that you were supposed to do. You practiced a lot, played all of the recitals, wrote all of the papers, worked yourself to death trying to finish that dissertation….and you still can’t catch a break. Plus, now that you need help, you don’t have the financial means to do so, especially if therapy is involved. For a while, I had a hard enough time trying to keep my anxiety medication filled, because we didn’t have insurance or the money to see a doctor.

The good thing about this study, even though people still don’t realize just how tough it is to make it in music, is the fact that Help Musicians UK is dedicated to help change the industry and provide free assistance to those who need it in the UK through Musicians Minds Matter. This is a 24/7 mental health service that will hopefully provide the proper care to suffering musicians. The only problem is that this is only happening in the UK and not throughout the world. Like I stated, I’m grateful that this issue is receiving attention, but we desperately need this type of service in the states.

I also wonder if the study focused equally upon artists working within the art music and popular music genres. I have a feeling that this study was aimed more towards the actual “industry,” rather than those of us struggling to make it as an instrumental performer or teacher. It would make sense, because those within the “industry” are generally high profile, but that doesn’t make those of us on the classical side any less important. If anything, I feel that the art music and academic side is even more “cut-throat” than the pop culture side. Now, I’m not trying to say that one side is better than the other or needs more attention, but I do want to make sure that all musicians get the proper respect and treatment.

I really hope that more and more people realize that the music field is broken. We have too many highly-qualified individuals and not enough jobs to go around. There are so many very talented musicians that I have met through my journeys that completely gave up on music, because of the high-risk, low-reward nature of our industry. I’m grateful that I have a teaching job and that I can teach at a couple of universities, but my salary doesn’t even come close to off-setting the amount of time and debt that went into obtaining my training and degrees. I also was not trained or prepared to deal with many of the hardships that I have had to go through over the past few years. The field is definitely changing and evolving, but I don’t know if it is changing fast enough. There’s also a big culture divide that has severely lessened the support and appreciation that the arts receive throughout this country, which is a travesty. It’s getting to the point that if you don’t live in certain parts of the country, then you may not have the same opportunities as a person living somewhere else that is more supportive of the arts. I’ll leave it at that because this is definitely yet another issue that also needs attention.

If I had access to the resources and/or the time, I would take on a similar type of research/study here in the states. My focus would probably be on academics and classical artists, but I could also devote some attention to industry artists as well. Unfortunately, adjunct professors are not allocated researching funds and most outside (non-university) grants are given to full-time professors anyway. I will have to do some investigating to see if a study like this can be done here. Maybe it already is being done and I just don’t know about it. I’m just glad that musicians with depression and anxiety are finally being acknowledged. Music Minds Matter, having just gone live this month, is in its fledgling stage right now, so it will be interesting to monitor its success (or shortcomings) over the next few years.

Here’s the url for Music Minds Matter:

https://www.musicmindsmatter.org.uk/

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