Music Minds Matter
 

 Can Music Make You Sick?

The world's largest known study of musicians' mental health.

 
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In 2016, Help Musicians UK commissioned the University of Westminster and MusicTank to undertake the largest known study into the working conditions of musicians.

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Phase 1

November 2016

Quick facts

  • 2,211 (self-selected) respondents took part in the industry-wide survey
  • 71.1% of all respondents believed they had experienced panic attacks and/or high levels of anxiety
  • 68.5% reported they had experienced depression
  • [Of those that reported] 30% claimed they would be very likely to, or had already sought help
  • 55% felt there were gaps in the provision of services for musicians

Preliminary findings suggested that while artists find solace in the production of music, working in the music industry might indeed be making musicians sick, or at least contributing to their levels of mental ill-health. Respondents attributed this to a variety of reasons including:

  • Poor working conditions including: the difficulty of sustaining a living, anti-social working hours, exhaustion and the inability to plan their time/future
  • A lack of recognition for one's work and the welding of music and identity into one's own idea of selfhood
  • The physical impacts of a musical career, such as musculoskeletal disorders
  • Issues related to being a woman in the industry – from balancing work and family commitments, to sexist attitudes and even sexual harassment
 
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"A plumber doesn’t work for experience. A doctor doesn’t perform surgery for exposure.

- Anonymous survey respondent, 2016

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Phase 2

October 2017

The second phase of Can Music Make You Sick? delves deeper. In-depth qualitative interviews were carried out with 26 musicians who took part in the pilot study. 

Respondents were asked about their working experiences and how they understood these impacted on their mental health and general wellbeing.

Headline findings for this qualitative research include:

  1. Music makers' relationship to their work is integral to their sense of self. It's how they define themselves.
  2. People in the music industry needed to believe in themselves and their work, yet the unpredictable nature of the business can knock that belief.
  3. Music makers can be reflective and highly self-critical, and exist in an environment of constant critical feedback.
  4. A career in music is often precarious and unpredictable.
  5. Many musicians have several different jobs as part of a portfolio career, and as a result can feel as though they work 24/7 and can't take a break
  6. It can be hard for musicians to admit to insecurities because of competition and wanting to appear on top of things
  7. Family, friends and partners play an important role in supporting musicians, but this can also lead to feelings of guilt
  8. Musicians' working environment can be anti-social and unsympathetic, with some people experiencing sexual abuse, harassment, bullying and coercion. 

The research suggested three key areas for change:

  • Education
  • A Code of Best Practice
  • A mental health support service for those working in music

HMUK is committed to supporting the music community and through the announcement of #MusicMindsMatter, we are closer to providing the crucial support, advice and education the industry needs.

Writing a song has never made me unhappy... it’s the industry, it’s the game
— Lauren Aquilina | songwriter