Broken Notes – Mental Health In The Music Industry

The first time I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety was when I was 18 years old; I went to the doctor, said wagwan, and in turn they gave me the answer I needed. As I sat in that doctors office, staring at the floor, fiddling with my sleeve, many emotions swarmed through me; sadness, anger, stupidity, but above all, relief; I finally had an answer after all these years of wondering if its normal to feel so fucking awful about yourself. But while I may be depressed, I’m also comfortable in my skin. The battle between myself and my own mental health is far from over, but over the last year or so I’ve accepted that its part of me no matter what, and it might just stay with me until I’m six feet under.

This post isn’t about me though, its about something that perhaps isn’t talked about enough; the connection between depression and music. In case you haven’t noticed, the link between the two is almost unmissable; music is a way of expression, and through expression comes your truest and most raw emotion. Many artists – over the years we’ve enjoyed a pop music culture – have written about their demons, or have channeled it through their music in some form. Chester Bennington from Linkin Park is one of the most relevant examples that comes to mind; after committing suicide in July last year, his death sparked a huge conversation about mental health all around the world. But even before Bennington’s suicide, he wrote numerous lyrics which documented how he felt inside.

Shortly before his passing, Linkin Park’s latest album One More Light was released. I wish I could say I listened to the entire album, but in all honesty I just didn’t enjoy anything I had heard from it. The only song I liked to listen to was One More Light, because it was the first song in a while to actually provoke me into crying. I first heard it when the band performed the song on Jimmy Kimmel’s telly show in the United States; they dedicated it to Chris Cornell, who had committed suicide only the day before. During the performance, if you do watch it (seriously do), you can see just how much pain the entire band was in, from Brad Delson struggling to fight tears as he played guitar, to Chester who couldn’t hide the sorrow in his voice with every broken note he sang.

In my experience as a songwriter and a musician, I’ve found that music and lyrics flow much more naturally when speaking from a dark corner of my mind. Some of my best work is written under the influence of depression or out of anger. But then again, something about using my mental health as a creative tool has always irked me; who do I think I am? Getting my kicks by writing about how I feel sorry for myself and do nothing all day except complain and smoke and drink and wank my pain away?

Maybe I’m getting carried away.

Something thats intrigued me for a while now is something a friend of mine mentioned a few years ago; what if the whole idea of music itself is a cause of mental health problems? What if the very thing that many people look to as an escape from their demons, is in its own right a cause of depression and anxiety? That question has always stuck with me, and the more I thought about it, the more I realised just how true it is; not just the music industry, but music in general is a cause of depression and anxiety. I did some digging and discovered an article written by NME last year which referenced a study entitled “Can Music Make You Sick?” which gave me the answers I knew, the answers I didn’t know, and overall the answers I needed.

MAD – Music and Depression

In 2016, a study was undertaken by The University of Westminster and MusicTank to determine whether or not the working conditions of people working within the music industry are causing said people to experience mental health problems. The Uni of Westminster launched an industry-wide online survey looking to understand the scale of the problem. 2211 musicians responded; 66.2% were between the ages of 18 to 35 years old, 55.2% were male, and 43.9% were female. 39% of respondents described themselves as musicians working across many genres, whereas other various professions included DJ’s, live crew, and music management.

From the survey, the terrifying figures revealed themselves, proving that a large number of people within the music industry are indeed suffering from depression and anxiety.

71.1% of all respondents said that they had suffered from panic attacks and/or high levels of anxiety, 68.5% said that they had suffered from depression. These numbers are already too fucking high, but they exist, and the causes of these high statistics are also listed within the study. They include causes such as;

  • Poor working conditions (difficulty finding income, anti-social lifestyle – too many hours – exhaustion from work, and the inability to plan their time/future).
  • Lack of recognition within the industry – music is welded into these people’s identities, and a lack of appreciation and/or exposure could be damaging to their self worth.
  • Issues related to the problems of being a woman in the industry, such as sexist attitudes and even sexual harassment.

In the second phase of the study, it delves deeper than it already has. 26 musicians who took part in the original pilot study were selected, and had in-depth qualitative interviews carried out upon them. Each respondent was asked about their experience in the industry and how they understood these impacted on their mental health and general well being.

The findings include many reasons and overall they link to identity; music makers define themselves based on their relationship to work, which is integral to their sense of self. A huge part of music is the fact that the people who strive for its creation believe in themselves as well as their work, but the music industry’s unpredictable nature could be enough to knock belief into fantasy. This is linked to the reflective and highly self-critical lifestyle of a musician; they allow themselves to rely on constant critical feedback. You can believe me when I say their are probably more unfinished or abandoned songs out their than there are finished and complete songs. Furthermore, as a result of a desire to be the best and stand out, a musician is less likely to open up about their insecurities out of fear for not being taken seriously. These are just a few of the reasons.

I sincerely hope you do take some time to read the article for yourself, its written in a much more sophisticated manner than my own (remember earlier when I said ‘wank’?).

Overall I agree with the study, because its easy for me to relate to it. As a frequent songwriter, I’m constantly battling myself over whether or not something sounds good, or if people will think my opinion is stupid. I suppose its normal for a creator to doubt themselves every now and again, but constant doubt and criticism can still lead to a major depression. The same goes for this entire fucking blog! After completing a post, there’ll usually be a day long waiting period until I actually publish it, and during that time I’ll be living under constant fear that people will laugh at me, or think everything I write is bollocks. In fact, one of the reasons I put off starting a blog for so long was that I was scared of expressing myself through my writing. Hell I look back at the first post I published for The Scarlett Door and I cringe out of embarrassment because I hate how I write.

Even when I do release something on Soundcloud (a rare occurrence), there’s always a little part of me that tells me “this is so fucking awful”, or a part of me that draws my eye to my notifications and reminds me that only two people have liked it, and ten people have listened to it within three days. As a musician with literally zero exposure in the industry, I should be grateful that even just one person took time out of their life to listen to my music, but the concept of a celebrity culture has hardwired this idea into my head that I’m only good if loads of people look at my product. As a result, I feel down, depressed, and hopeless that I could ever make it as a musician. Even though my main goal in life is journalism as opposed to a professional noise maker, its like a dream I’ve had for so long is just reduced to nothing when I feel like nobody cares for my craft.

Depression and anxiety are real threats to how we live our lives, but there’s a part of me somewhere in the back of my mind telling me that a world free from sadness would deprive us of a lot of passion through art without pain lingering behind every note, brush-stroke, or photo taken. I salute each and every creator who battles with depression and anxiety, especially those who are desperate for a career in creation, whether it be music, or photography, or any form of art, because I know it can be one hell of a fight, and one fucking bitch if you get beaten. Would you live a life of constant self-hatred and anxiety out of love for your craft? Do you think somebody has to make that kind of sacrifice?





PS: If you feel depressed, anxious, or are going through a difficult time, please reach out. No matter who you are, you’re worth everything to the universe xx




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