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Why The Music Industry Needs To Do More For Artists’ Mental Health

by : Niamh Shackleton on : 10 Oct 2020 15:15
Why The Music Industry Needs To Do More For Artists' Mental HealthWhy The Music Industry Needs To Do More For Artists' Mental HealthPA/jordanfstephens/Instagram/samtompkinsuk/Instagram

Many of us turn to music as a way of expressing our emotions – there’s a playlist for every mood.

However, while we turn to music to express our own feelings, we often fail to consider the emotions of those creating the music we’re listening to.

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Many in the music industry have battled mental health issues and struggled with the fame that follows their high-profile career. From Kurt Cobain and Avicii, to Chester Bennington and Keith Flint, mental health issues can affect anyone. So, with today, October 10, marking World Mental Health Day, we’re looking at how being an artist and dealing with mental health struggles can often be a difficult task, but one that needs to be addressed.

In 2016, charity Help Musicians commissioned a study alongside the University of Westminster and MusicTank to undertake the largest known study into mental health and the music industry. Of 2,221 respondents who took part, 71.1% said they had experienced high levels of anxiety, while 68.5% said that they’d experienced depression.

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A further 55% believed there’s a gap in the mental health resources available to them. Agreeing with this, singer Jack Garratt strongly believes artists need more support in regards to their mental health.

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Jack told UNILAD about his own mental health struggles last month for World Suicide Prevention Day; as well as discussing his own experiences, the Surprise Yourself singer expressed his thoughts on what needs to change in the music industry to help its artists.

Jack explained:

The music industry exploits the mental health of its artists to make as much money as possible, and does very little for longevity of the health of the artist that they exploit. My industry should be at the forefront for fighting for the rights for everyone to have access to better mental health care.

I don’t think the music industry does anything near enough what it should do, to what I believe is responsible. There is no industry that actively encourages it.

Jack said his music career is technically his own business, and with this in mind he’s expected to play every part of it, from CEO to the HR department, all of which Jack has zero training in.

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He added:

I’m expected to delegate all that, but then I’m expected to continue to morph and change what my job description is depending on who I’m with.

Essentially, the point I’m trying to make is that there is so much expectation on the individual in the music industry and I don’t think there is a lot of understanding of what is expected of them.

According to Jack, record labels need to take more accountability for their artists’ wellbeing and mental health. While it’s all good that it may be recognised as an issue, it will continue to be an issue until something is actively done about it.

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Speaking about how he’s often encouraged not to open up about his mental health struggles, Jack said:

It is not rare for a musician to make an album, release an album, do a tour, and in that time, discover that they are depressed. That is not a rare thing to happen. It is not the record labels fault, or the music industry’s fault – but the way in which they refuse to communicate it to the public is going to be our own doing.

I should be able to talk to my fans and tell them that, more often than not, I am sad and depressed and scared and full of dread. But I am encouraged to not do that too much because then ‘Jack, people probably aren’t going to buy your records’.

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Jack called this ‘bullsh*t,’ saying a lot of what he describes as ‘the failings of the music industry’ could be handled better if there was more open communication between those in the industry and consumers.

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Rizzle Kicks’ Jordan Stephens is another figure in the industry who has openly addressed his mental health struggles since becoming a public figure. Rising to fame in his early 20s alongside bandmate Harley Alexander-Sule, the duo became well-known for their upbeat, catchy songs like Mama Do The Hump and Down With The Trumpets.

Jordan spoke to UNILAD about his struggles with being in the spotlight, saying:

I think what I struggled with was the fact that, in terms of fame, but not necessarily success, you have an imprint in peoples’ minds certainly from when you begin. The first thing they see of you is often how they judge you going forwards.

Being a musician I liked, but being a pop star I didn’t enjoy so much because I felt like I had to keep putting on a mask, pretending to be grateful and appreciative all the time, and smiley. When people in my life died and sh*t got dark, and I was growing up, I started to get pressure to exceed the high expectations that we’d gathered for ourselves. I started plummeting.

Jordan further explained how he struggled to attend celebrity events due to his social anxiety, turning to drinking and cocaine as a way of coping instead. Though he no longer does either of these.

Rizzle KicksRizzle KicksPA Images

Starting his career in his early 20s, Jordan said it was inevitable he would say and do ‘dumb sh*t’ because he was only young, adding that he was ‘dumbfounded’ that people thought anything he said was remotely important. He believes that the culture around celebrities is ‘toxic’.

Jordan continued:

As soon as you’re in the public eye you get hounded. Especially if you’re a popstar you just get abused. As much as there is loads of beautiful comments and support and fandom, you get people calling you a f*cking idiot all the time and stuff.

I would go as far as to hazard a guess that if there is a pop star under the age of 25, maybe 23, who has reached at least nationwide success, they’re probably depressed. […] It is an unbelievable amount of pressure and anxiety that you’re dealing with, especially if you’re a vulnerable person in the first place.

In light of his mental health struggles and becoming sober, Jordan founded the global mental health movement #IAMWHOLE, which encourages young people to speak out and seek help if they need it. In association with the movement, Jordan has a new show called The Whole Truth, described as a ‘ground breaking new music-led Black mental health TV and digital campaign’. Having aired last night, October 9, you can watch it from today on All 4.

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A third artist to speak to UNILAD about their mental health and coping with it while working in the music industry is Sam Tompkins. Sam has been working his way up the career ladder since the age of 16 and, after experiencing a couple of setbacks at such a young age, it caused the now 23-year-old to doubt himself.

He explained:

When doubts sank into my mind a lot of anxiety sank into my mind. I think it was bound to happen but I think it got amped up because of what I do and that it’s actually quite irregular that someone actually breaks through. So I just became overcome with, ‘Oh, I have no back up plan’, so if this doesn’t work out, it’s gonna suck. Especially because I was 16 as well, and having to think like that is quite damaging, I think.

Following on from the doubts set in his mind from the setbacks he’d experienced, Sam explained how the lack of stability in the music industry can induce extreme anxiety. ‘Even though I’ve signed a deal and even though I have a little bit more money than I used to, there’s every chance that everything could just go absolutely sh*t and I’ll have to go work a job I promised myself I’d never work again,’ he said.

Sam stressed that he, like any other artist, is ‘just like everyone else’ and still experiences the same emotions as those who aren’t in the industry.

Sam Tompkins UNILAD Next Up 2020Sam Tompkins UNILAD Next Up 2020UNILAD

The Follow Suit singer explained:

I think sometimes people think about musicians complaining about how they’re feeling, they think ‘oh you’ve got it worked out, everything’s great for you’, but sometimes it’s not. Sometimes the smallest thing can upset us and throw us off for months. I think that’s something that we’ve all got to remember, regardless of the industry.

When you see someone genuinely upset about something, don’t just shrug it off, ever. Always make sure you’ve tried to listen and be there for people.

Speaking of how people within the music industry should be helped with their mental health, Sam believes record labels should offer counselling to their artists, both established and new ones. He also believes labels should offer counselling to artists they have dropped from their roster, because that’s something that could potentially affect someone for the rest of their life.

While there are various mental health charities open to the public, there aren’t many specifically focused on helping those within the music industry. However, there are a few – one being Music Support. The charity describes itself as being for ‘individuals in any area of the UK music industry suffering from mental, emotional and behavioural health disorders (including but not limited to alcohol and drug addiction)’ and is run by people who have worked in the industry.

Eric Mtungwazi, Managing Director of Music Support, spoke to UNILAD about the hardships many people in the music industry experience.

He explained:

To the general public enjoying its many and varied outputs, the music industry may at times seem glamourous and even carefree. But those working to provide the world with musical entertainment and experiences that bind us together, whether as artists, musicians, technicians, publishers, promoters or broadcasters, are as susceptible to mental distress, ill health, and addiction as anyone else.

Some of the stressors are industry specific while others are not. People in the music industry need and deserve help. Sometimes it is easier to reach out for and accept help if it is offered by people with whom you can identify and who are best placed to empathise with your situation.

Eric added that Music Support exists to ‘secure the wellbeing of these people [in the music industry].’

Mental health issues don’t discriminate. They affect all types of people from all walks of life, and we all need – and deserve – access to help when we need it.

If there’s one thing you should take away from this article, it’s that it’s important to be kind to one another because we genuinely do not know what someone else is going through – including those in the public eye.

If you’re experiencing distressing thoughts and feelings, the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) is there to support you. They’re open from 5pm–midnight, 365 days a year. Their national number is 0800 58 58 58 and they also have a webchat service if you’re not comfortable talking on the phone.

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Niamh Shackleton

Niamh Shackleton is a pint sized person and journalist at UNILAD. After studying Multimedia Journalism at the University of Salford, she did a year at Caters News Agency as a features writer in Birmingham before deciding that Manchester is (arguably) one of the best places in the world, and therefore moved back up north. She's also UNILAD's unofficial crazy animal lady.

Topics: Featured, Music