Five Tips for Looking After Your Mental Health in the Music Industry

While the ‘troubled artist’ stereotype is almost as old as art itself, mental health challenges in the music industry are reaching epidemic proportions.

Five Tips for Looking After Your Mental Health in the Music Industry
Five Tips for Looking After Your Mental Health in the Music Industry

One particularly pervasive (and until recently very overlooked) mental health condition that artists have an increased likelihood of developing is bipolar disorder. For example, a groundbreaking Sweedish (2012) study found that when they analysed 700,000 Swedish teenagers, the 16-year-olds who excelled in creativity were four times more likely to develop bipolar disorder than their less-artistic counterparts. Bipolar disorder is characterized by periods of depression and sadness combined with periods of manic elation, during which an individual can experience paranoia, increased confidence, risk-taking behavior, racing thoughts or behave in a manner that is ‘out-of-character.’ When an individual comes out of a depressive phase, the brain is overwhelmed with activity, and it can result in feelings of inspiration or extremely heightened creativity. However, bipolar disorder can severely affect an individual’s life, wellbeing, and health. While the highs of the manic episode can lead to creative ideas, the lows of the depressive episode are exceptionally channeling, and often lead to substance abuse dependency or suicidal thoughts.

However, despite the need for mental health care in the music industry, it remains lacking. In 2018, a survey from the Music Industry Research Association found that 50% of musicians struggle with depression, two times higher than the general adult population. Another recent survey (2019) found that 73% of artists reported mental health difficulties, but only 19% believed that the music industry provided healthy and supportive working conditions.

In light of this growing concern, Paracelsus Recovery’s experts have provided five tips for artists battling emotional difficulties.

1. Find Something to Focus on Outside of Music.

Artists are passionate people, and finding something you love is crucial for anyone whose primary pastime has now become their profession. The lines can become so blurred that whenever you pick up your chosen instrument to unwind, it may lead to increased work-related pressures. Finding another artform, such as painting, film, or creative writing, could help you to reconnect with that creative inner child who originally found comfort in artistic expression.

2. Acknowledge Your Limitations.

While we all face the pressures to impress, there is no profession in which it is quite as profound as the music industry. While on tour, artists spend months on end with the constant pressure to connect with their audience in each concert as though it is for one night only. Each night the artist must exert extreme levels of energy, musical capability, physical endurance, and emotional vulnerability. This pressure can wreak havoc on our self-esteem and potentially lead to a burnout or depression. It can lead the individual to exceed their capacities, consequently relying on substances to survive each performance. When faced with this mounting weight, it is vital to be compassionate with your human abilities, rather than force yourself to go beyond them. An artist is, first and foremost, a flawed, vulnerable, limited human being who can only give so much.

3. Practice Gratitude (but not to the point of guilt).

Casting your mind back to the days in which your present reality was no more than a dream can help you reconnect with who you were before fame and success thrust you into an alternate reality. In doing so, it enables you to feel pride and gratitude for all you’ve achieved, rather than fear and panic for what might lie ahead. However, it is also noteworthy to remember gratitude is of no service if it is used as a punishment for what we feel. Mental illness thrives in isolation, and sometimes feelings of failure for being unhappy when you have achieved “everything you wanted” perpetuates suffering alone. Mental ill-health can affect anyone at any stage in their life. This is particularly true when your lifestyle is compounded by instability and loneliness, while your creative pursuits require you to wear your heart on your sleeve.

4. Reach out to Family and Friends.

Artists provide the soundtrack for everyone else’s social life, but as a result, it can be underemphasized how lonely living on the road and performing can be. If an artist acquires worldwide fame, the problem is compounded, as millions of people claim to love them without knowing them. If you find yourself struggling with mental ill-health, exhaustion, or negative thought patterns, it is vital to find those people you trust and reach out to them. In so doing, we invoke compassion to our own experience and implicitly remind ourselves we are deserving of love and support, and human, like everyone else. This is particularly important if you find yourself relying on substances to feel connected to others and to fill the genuine need for emotional connection.

5. Do not rely on Substances for Creativity.

Finally — one of the most important things to remember is that, despite prevailing stereotypes, substances such as drugs or alcohol do not induce or help creativity. Cultural phenomena such as the 27 club or heroin chic can be dangerous because they romanticize a pain-ridden, unbalanced, and short life. It is crucial to remember you are the creative genius, and the substance only provides you with a fleeting burst of confidence and conviction in your own abilities. If you are struggling with substance abuse, it is vital to be honest with yourself in a compassionate manner. In seeking help, you may find you improve not only your quality of life but also your music.

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