Today marks the first day of Mental Health Awareness Week, so I wanted to take this opportunity to talk about mental health among musicians and my own mental health.
Can Music Make You Sick?
Did you know that one in four of us will suffer mental health problems at some stage in our life?
According to Help Musicians UK (HMUK), musicians are neither more or less likely to experience mental health problems. However, there might be particular issues that may affect musicians (or any type of artist for that matter), resulting in mental health problems.
In 2016 HMUK commissioned the world’s largest known academic study into music and mental health, Can Music Make You Sick?, undertaken by the University of Westminister and Music Tank.
In a sample of over 2000 musicians, they found that 71% of musicians reported that they had experienced panic attacks or and/or high levels of anxiety, and 69% had experienced depression.
In the qualitative report of Can Music Make You Sick? released in 2017, it was revealed that money worries, poor working conditions, relationship challenges, and sexual abuse/ bullying/ discrimination were key themes cited in impacting musicians’ mental health.
The Death of Chester Bennington
Some of my favourite artists have used music to share their battles with mental health such as Linkin Park and Fiona Apple. Listening to their music has always helped me deal with my difficulties, but equally, I’m sure that sharing their thoughts and feelings has been a great outlet in battling their demons.
Sadly, music isn’t always enough; on 20th July 2017 Chester Bennington of Linkin Park took his own life. This was devastating news for me because not only I had seen them perform 3 weeks earlier for the first time, but Linkin Park’s music, particularly their lyrics delivered to perfection by Chester, helped me through some emotional turmoil when I was younger
I thought that if Chester could go through what he’d been through and come out the other side, so could I. And my problems weren’t half as bad as his. I admired his strength, so on hearing of his passing, I was in shock. Now, I can’t listen to a Linkin Park song without getting upset.
Over the years, I have met many musicians who live with mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, who find that creating music is a great outlet to deal with this.
Songwriting has been a cathartic method in allowing me to deal with difficult emotions and situations over the years. It was a method I could always turn to. Putting pen to paper and expressing those feelings in song was almost a way of coming to peace with whatever I was dealing with at the time.
And of course, writing about your feelings can bring about some of the best songs.
My Mental Health & When Music Stopped Being Fun
However, I have found myself in a position where everything I do is so overwhelming that even songwriting has turned into a chore. As someone who would carry my little songbook around with me in primary school and would churn out songs like nobody’s business (albeit not always good songs), it’s been hard for me to admit to myself that I haven’t really written a song since we released Love Is Love back in 2016. Music just stopped being fun.
I have been singing for as long as I can remember and sometimes I forget just how much I love to sing. The feeling when I perform fills me with so much joy, but recently, my favourite moments are when Ella and I are just chilling - no gig to rehearse for, no writing - and find a song that gets us in the mood for some carefree singing.
I have never asked for help with my mental health but the past couple of years have been the closest I’ve been to seeking help, because it has started to affect my daily routine more than ever.
However, talking about my feelings is something I find extremely difficult. I think that’s why songwriting is so therapeutic. But while I don’t have that to turn to, I’ve had to find other ways to cope. Sadly, this has meant that Naz & Ella has taken a back seat which has only served to cause me more stress! I want to have that motivation to write for us again because I love writing, singing, and performing with Ella.
I have slowly come to realise that the stress I have put on myself, being unable to cope with minor external stressors, constantly feeling overwhelmed by the tiniest things, feeling irritable, not in control, and unmotivated, as well as longstanding baseline mild sadness are a toxic combination.
The worst part is knowing I don’t really have anything to worry about, yet these feelings can unexpectedly take hold of me at any moment.
So, this Mental Health Awareness Week, I pledge to be more open and talk about how I’m feeling, and to ask for help and support when those feelings grab a hold of me.
For anyone concerned about this post, I have made some changes in my life recently and my mental health is much better than it was a couple of months ago.
Help & Support
If you’re experiencing mental health problems or need urgent support, there are some amazing resources available including Mind and Samaritans. We found a great list of resources on Help Musicians UK which you can find here.
Help Musicians UK is a UK charity for professional musicians, from starting out to retirement. They support emerging artists to develop their talent and also provide support to musicians through crises. Last year they set up a 24 hour support line ‘Music Minds Matter’ for the whole UK music community.
Music Minds Matter support-line (0808 802 8008)
Help Musicians UK/ Wikimedia Commons
Ben Houdijk/ Wikimedia Commons
Kristina Servant/ Wikimedia Commons Owen Harvey Photography Sunil Tailor Photography