Day view of Westminster university, London. 2016 - Credits : Westminster university

A British study reveals musicians’ worrying perception about their mental health

Alexandre Trochut
Day view of Westminster university, London. 2016 - Credits : Westminster university
A recent University of Westminster study made for Help Musicians UK suggests that 71% of musicians are feeling to suffer of anxiety and 69% of depression. No, musicians are not three times more susceptible to mental illness, this is what they feel, and here is why this is a huge difference.

Help Musicians UK, a leading charity supporting British music makers, has commissioned a survey of 2,211 practitioners, conducted by a team from the University of Westminster, is entitled “Music and Depression (MAD)” and is the largest survey of its kind carried out in the UK to date. The most buzzing statistic is that 68.5% reported to suffering from depression at some time in their career while 71.1% believed that they had experienced panic attacks or high levels of anxiety. That puts musicians a startling three times more likely to be depressed than members of the general public.


Up to three times more likely to suffer from depression


Starting from those numbers, the survey found the main reasons explaining this level of mental ill-health in the musical industry. From poor working conditions, anti-social hours, exhaustion, inability to plan for the future, lack of recognition for one’s work, physical stresses and sexist behaviour or even sexual harassment are the main causes identified by the study.

Should be noted however that although they self-identified as having mental health” issues ranging from anxiety to depression or bi-polar troubles, the researchers did not attempt to medically verify these conditions, despite the fact that many said “having been hospitalised in the past“. Therefore it become so vital to note that the study does not address the reported ill patients after one or several medical examinations but this is rather a survey of people declaring themselves as professional musicians (which has not been verified) and then declaring suffer pain (by answering questions) and were not subject to further medical checks.

The romantic rhetoric of the tortured musician is embedded in the Western history of popular music, from classical composers including Schumann, Mahler and Rachmaninov through to the enduring myth of tragic rock stars, such as Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, and Hendrix. However, attempts at mapping the emotional and psychological wellbeing of musicians working and seeking to forge careers within the music industry have largely been absent, with arguments often rooted in an unhelpful, individualistic and dismissive pathologisation of creative or affective labour.– Dr.George Musgrave, author of the study


” The only thing that causes depression for musicians is the music industry itself ”


The survey looked at all musical genres, but each of rock, pop and classical occupied over a quarter of those sampled. The majority of those asked felt that there was inadequate mental support on offer across the industry no matter where they were based.

Whilst it is a widely held perspective that creating music attracts people with particular psychological tendencies, the message that came through in the survey was clear: music making is therapeutic, but making a career out of music is destructive. As one respondent succinctly stated: “The only thing that causes depression for musicians is the music industry itself”. “ – Dr.George Musgrave, author of the study

MAD’s brief was to hear directly from professional musicians, aspiring musicians, and workers within the wider music industry, about how they feel about their working conditions, and how they perceive working in the music industry to affect their mental wellbeing. As such, it is the first part of a two-part process, the next step being to delve deeper into existing issues and explore a range of solutions. It is hoped that the results will be released sometime in 2017.


Click here to download the full report from Help Musicians UK


About Help Musicians UK

Help Musicians UK is the leading independent music charity in the country. It has an unrivalled reputation for providing health and welfare support to working and retired musicians and also provides additional investment in organisations as well as emerging and mid-career artists to further artistic development. Its independence enables the charity to be a truly representative voice for musicians and the wider industry. In preparation for its centenary the charity has set the ambitious fundraising target of raising £21m by 2021.