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Can Music Make You Sick? A New UK Study Reveals Being A Musician Is Harder Than You Think

Sinead O’Connor


Can Music Make You Sick? is a big 40-page study commissioned by the University of Westminster and MusicTank to investigate the working conditions of musicians, as researchers Sally-Anne Gross and Dr. George Musgrave wanted to investigate the scale of the mental health challenges facing the music industry in the UK. It is the largest study in this field which surveyed 2,200 musicians and revealed that 71.1% of them believed they had experienced panic attacks and high levels of anxiety, 68.5% reported they had experienced depression, and among those who had already sought help, 55% felt there were gaps in the provision of services for musicians. And we are not even talking about the USA where the health system can be even more complicated and flawed.

These numbers are very high, when you compare with the general population as generalized anxiety disorder affects 3.1 % of the US population (although the study was made in the UK), panic disorder affects 2.7% of the population, major depressive disorder affects 6.7 % of the population and persistent depressive disorder affects ‘only’ 1.5% of the population. You don’t have to look very hard, every month you hear about a musician’s meltdown, look what happened to Kanye West, Kesha, Justin Bieber, Sinead O’Connor… and these are famous and successful artists!

So why are musicians so anxious and depressed? The study brings a series of answers: a career in music is precarious and unpredictable resulting into anxiety problems, many musicians often take several different jobs to survive and can be overworked, they also have many insecurities due to competition, they can experience sexual abuse, harassment, bullying and coercion, and they are on their own when it comes to dealing with mental health problems, because they are very often self-employed. To this you can add the toll on relationships because of the constant touring, and i am not talking about the lack of consideration for a job often regarded as a hobby: ‘People will ask ‘are you still doing your little music thing?’ Well, yes. Are you still doing your little banking thing?’ comments a London Dubstep producer.

Many of these conditions (bullying, overworking,..) could be applied to many other professions, but nowhere else you can find these high numbers regarding mental health, so it says something about the current conditions of musicians. Nevertheless, there still is a general question, may be this kind of profession attracts people already fragile to start with, and may be these people are less equipped to handle all these obstacles? And it’s probably the case for any artistic profession. In any case the study concludes that more should be done to protect musicians. The study will not surprise musicians but we are in needs of a similar one for the US and especially in needs of actions to be taken.

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