Is it time to redefine mental health in music?


With the death of popular musicians in recent years such as Avicii, Lil Peep, Keith Flint and Mac Miller mental health in the music industry has become an even more pressing conversation. Demi Lovato, Zayn Malik and Selena Gomez are just a few of the many celebrities who continue to be more candid about their struggles, working towards removing certain social stigmas around mental health that deem it a taboo subject.

Alcoholism and drug addiction are important components of mental illness. One issue is that festivals, clubs, bars and tour buses are common places where industry relationships are forged. This makes it increasingly difficult for professional communities such as the Music Mangers Forum to effectively monitor and tackle substance abuse and addiction.

Dan Hyman, a freelance journalist who writes for some of the leading publications in the US, was one of the last to write a profile on Mac Miller who died last year due to an accidental drug overdose. “Mac was very open about his struggles, more so than so many other celebrities I’ve talked to. People assumed if he’s conscious of his struggles and is not in denial, then he must have a firm enough grasp on it. That is a trait of addicts. This idea that they’re okay and under control. It’s a strategic decision to keep everyone at arm’s length”. There are parallels between mental health-related issues affecting artists in the UK and the US. Though, mental illness comes in different forms, it is very much a universal issue that isn’t confined to one region.

Other equally as important forms of music industry-specific mental illness were analysed in recent research by Help Musicians UK. The report showed that 71% had experienced anxiety, panic attacks and 68.5% admitted to suffering with depression at a stage in their career.


“Working in PR is a lot lonelier than it used to be. I work in this vacuum of emails. Nothing comes back. It’s utterly soul destroying. The hardest thing is having to work days and weeks without getting a success. You’re being paid to bring results, so it can be quite damaging mentally when you are constantly feeling like you’re not producing the goods,” music publicist and artist manager at Riotsquad Publicity Julie Allison says.

“Why would a musician need therapy any more than someone like me? As a music manager, it’s my job to be the punchbag, shield the client, feel every tear that they cry and steer them in the right direction.”

“A musician firstly is on public view. I once had a musician say to me “it’s my name on the dressing room door”. At the end of the day, it’s their legacy, it’s what their children will see. There’s very different challenges and difficulties that artist managers and musicians face. But, managers take knocks behind the scenes,” she adds passionately.

Shifting the Narrative

Artist confessions are a testament to the fact that the conversation has indeed gained momentum. Mental health has moved up the agenda for music-based charities, research-led organisations and support groups. One of the main pitfalls that has arisen out of the narrative seems to be that it starts and remains largely centred on the musician, neglecting other industry personnel. Professional communities such as the UK’s Music Managers Forum are challenging this by educating music managers on ways to identify the signs, as they emerge by curating monthly meetups and panel talks which are free for its members. The presence of these initiatives does help in diversifying the narrative. But, how can we ensure such conversations gain widespread appeal? 

What also seems neglected is the gender imbalance that seeps into wider mental health issues in the music industry. John Bassett, a member of the Music Industry Therapist Collective (MITC), feels the presence of more women in the industry will help towards shifting the narrative: “they are coming with a fresher voice and a more human approach to looking at the perception of male musicians and male suicide, which in the case of musicians is ridiculously higher.” The MITC is founded by psychotherapist, Tamsin Embleton and consists of experienced psychotherapists who are committed to working with creatives suffering from various mental health related issues. 

Mass media attention reporting sudden deaths tend to place more focus on the problem than measures that can be taken to rehabilitate. For instance, ensuring that the public understand the impact of specific signs and symptoms to become better equipped at helping others and themselves. This is something that Kaiya Milan, CEO to music management firm OFF BALANCE, strongly conveys in conversation: “I do think this mental health epidemic now is a little bit overemphasised. We need to be careful about dwelling on the problem. Stressing the problems rather than the solutions. I do think if there was more focus on the solutions, you would be able to see that more visibly”.

What solutions are there?

Julie Allison adamantly denies that mental health practitioners in record labels could offer a way forward: “Record labels are set up for the staff and not the artist. It’s an administrative body for the artists”. She raises a valid point about this possibly being a conflict for musicians dealing with label-related issues or disputes with managers. Though, some may see her argument as weakening the potential success of any close collaboration between music industry therapists and music labels. Mr Bassett sees potential in the MITC: “For the MITC it’s all about becoming a collaborative and visible resource that is readily available for anybody.”

For Miss Kaiya Milan and much of the younger generation of artist managers, the future is social media: “If given provision for mental health services for my label, I would create a social media concept for artists to exchange methods and techniques for dealing with their mental health issues”.


So, my research continues. While this investigative feature cannot give a definitive answer as to why mental health issues continue to plague the music industry and various other fields. The problem is something we mustn’t ignore, despite not knowing how to adequately deal with it. With initiatives like the UK’s Mental Health Awareness Week and other worldwide initiatives, hopefully we can continue to shed light on the issue and discuss possible solutions. 

My next step is to explore how performing art schools in the UK nurture the talent of their students and prepare them for a future in the music industry. I’m keen to learn more about the mental health facilities offered to students and speak to practitioners and school counsellors about their experiences. I also hope to look more closely at the issue of male suicide. Through more empirical research and reading around the subject, I hope to uncover some statistics about other creative groups and young males altogether.

Help Musicians UK support line: 0808 802 8008

If you are suffering from a mental health issue, or know someone who is. Remember you are not alone. Support is available.

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