We hear a lot about how mental health is very prominent in the music industry and how the music industry worsens artists’ struggles with it. But why does the industry worsen mental health when it’s such a glamorized industry and career choice. To answer this question, I will look at examples of artists with known mental health struggles and try to figure out when their struggles started and if being in the industry had a negative or positive impact. I will also look at general statistics of mental health, including suicide rates, depression, anxiety, and other things in the mental health umbrella. Mental health is a broad subject and there are over two hundred disorders and illnesses under this umbrella. My paper focuses on emotional disorders such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, suicidal thoughts, etc.
One of the most well-known cases of mental health and struggles with depression is Kurt Cobain. He committed suicide in April 1994. This was not his first attempt at taking his own life. Cobain had previously tried to do this by taking over fifty prescription drugs, however, he survived. Cobain had struggled with his mental health since he was young, he was diagnosed with clinical depression as early as high school. He eventually was introduced to drugs which became a coping mechanism. The combination of drugs (which mostly caused paranoia, mood swings, and irritability) and clinical depression is what ultimately led to Cobain’s untimely death.
Simone Battle was another case of a struggle with mental health that led to the untimely death of a young singer. Battle was one of five singers in the group G.R.L., which was formed in 2012, only two years before Battle sadly committed suicide. Friends and family have told authorities that Battle had been depressed over money issues which they did not understand as she was at the height of her career. Battle had never shown any sign of mental health struggle beforehand and her untimely death came as a shock to those around her.
In 2018, the Music Industry Research Association did a study and found that fifty percent of musicians reported battling symptoms of depression compared to the general public which reported less than twenty-five percent of people battling with the same symptoms. Nearly twelve percent of musicians reported having suicidal thoughts which were nearly four times the general population. At least seventy-three percent of independent musicians have battled stress, anxiety, and/or depression at some point. From sharing a survey with ten artists, at least eighty percent of them said they were suffering from some kind of mental health issue. When five of those artists were asked why they thought their mental health was so negative, their general responses included the pressure of being consistent with their music, the pressure of maintaining their image, and the instability of their career choice.
As a general overview people don’t achieve as much or act efficiently when put under pressure and stress. In July 2021, a study was conducted by Better Up. They asked one thousand six hundred and ninety-three people, ‘How often does your performance at work suffer due to challenges with anxiety, stress, or other performance-related mental health issues?’. One in four of these people reported struggling with their performance weekly, sixty-three percent reported struggling monthly and five percent reported struggling daily.
After completing my own survey (aimed at individuals in the music industry), I found results that were consistent with these statistics. 88,9% of people found their mental health was being affected due to the pressure of being productive and creative. I asked musicians for their stories on how their mental health has been affected by the pressure of working, one of which said: “It’s a constant battle. I frequently struggle to work due to a stressful desire for perfection, something that has been detrimental to my mental health on frequent occasions. I cannot say whether the stress has affected my work directly, or if it’s the low quality of some of my work that has triggered the stress itself, but I do know that it’s feelings such as these that cause me to panic about my role as a musician. I hardly produce because of the stress surrounding factors such as the attempt to be a unique artist and whether or not I am good enough. I constantly feel the pressure of needing to be productive all the time and often cannot allow myself to take part in activities such as watching a film or reading a book as I feel that I will be wasting my time”.
A survey done by Hypebot showed seventy-three percent of one thousand and five hundred people experienced negative emotions such as stress, anxiety, and/or depression concerning their career. Thirty-three percent of these people reported fear of failure and financial instability as a reason for their negative emotions such as depression, stress, and anxiety.
The music industry is a very unpredictable place and can sometimes be an unstable career choice. For some, if they don’t produce work then they aren’t able to sustain their day-to-day lives. Because of this, there is a big pressure to create regular and perfected work. Artists make their living most often off royalties; most artists earn around nine cents (in American dollars) each time someone buys/streams/downloads a song. For an average person, it costs around nine hundred and thirty-seven dollars without rent each month for basic living. An artist would have to have their song bought/streamed/downloaded nearly ten thousand and five hundred times every month. For most this is difficult to achieve consistently. Fear of failure is also very common in the music industry, especially amongst newer and upcoming artists. Some common fears people have include: fear they are too old, fear they are not talented enough, fear their style will not be popular, and fear they will not be supported.
Certain types of thinkers are naturally drawn to play the stressful events over and over again, thinking about what happened, what they could have (or should have) done differently, how the details of what occurred will affect the rest of their lives, and so on. Creative thinkers tend to fall into the latter group, replaying events over and over again to better understand them. This thought process is what can lead to immense depression or a feeling of hopelessness, according to Yale University psychologist Susan Nolen-Hoeksema. This style of thinking is not exclusive to people in the music industry however people in the music industry tend to have a creative mindset. That creative mindset causes individuals to think about things longer than the average person because they are able to think of more outcomes for themselves. This could be a cause or at least contribute to long periods of negative mental health.
For most people in the music industry, pressure is put on physical appearance (weight/body type) and cosmetic appeal, especially for women. Examples of this include artists such as Demi Lovato, Kesha, Lily Allen, Sam Smith, Park Jimin, and Halsey. A 2017 study, done by Marianna E. Kapsetaki and Charlie Easmon of Imperial College and University College, asked three hundred and one musicians about their experiences with eating disorders. They found that thirty-two percent had experienced an eating disorder in their lifetime, and nineteen percent were classed as having one at the time of the survey.
Demi Lovato was served watermelon with a small amount of icing in place of a birthday cake for eight years by her management team in order ‘to keep her weight down’, according to Lovato’s best friend Matthew Scott Montgomery. Lovato’s management team kept her and anyone around the singer on a restrictive diet with the knowledge she had had severe struggles with eating disorders in her past.
Park Jimin of the band BTS has been public about his struggles with his body which led to severe eating disorders. He and a fellow bandmate went on the show ‘Please Take Care of My Refrigerator’, where they openly discussed their struggles. Park Jimin confessed to starving himself several days at a time to look slimmer and leaner so he could look more ‘handsome’. He revealed he followed strict diets when not starving himself which caused him to lose fifteen pounds and led to him becoming very ill. The singer would often pass out during rehearsals as a result of his eating habits.
For women more so than men pressure was put on facial and cosmetic beauty. The K-pop industry is a prime example of this. It is extremely common for K-pop stars to undergo plastic surgery to achieve perfect looks, either on their own accord or sometimes under the influence of their management companies. Serri, a South Korean singer spoke about her experience with plastic surgery on her YouTube channel. She spoke about how her management company would ‘offer’ surgeries to her to make her appear more attractive. She was offered breast augmentation several times as well as other surgeries. She also spoke about how for most idols, Botox and face fillers are almost mandatory to give more youthful and attractive appearances.
The music industry is starting to take steps to improve the collective mental health of those involved. New initiatives are popping up from both corporate giants and grassroots organizations; festivals and benefits are being planned to raise awareness of mental health, and efforts by record labels and artists are being made to destigmatize mental illness. More and more artists are speaking up about their struggles, which is making it easier for others to speak up and seek out help.
From a survey done by Help Musicians, over 2,000 music industry individuals ranging from artists to managers, staff at labels, publishers, booking agencies, promoters, etc., showed that over two-thirds of those surveyed had suffered from panic attacks, anxiety, and depression with over half of those surveyed felt that there were gaps in the provisions of services to support those struggling with these issues. This is slowly changing. More organizations are appearing to offer support. One of these organizations is music support. Their website states: “We provide help and support for those in or employed by music industry affected by mental ill-health and/or addiction. We facilitate education and learning via workshops and training to individuals and organizations in the industry so they may be better equipped in the areas of awareness, early intervention, and prevention”. If more companies and individuals become aware and educated on these things, mental health in the industry can be improved.
In conclusion, for most in the music industry mental health is affected by three main categories: fear of failure and instability, pressure of producing, and pressure put on looks. There will be more that contribute to the overall negative mental health of the music industry. Although mental health in the music industry is becoming de-stigmatized and is starting to improve it is not where it deserves to be. As a community, we need to put less pressure on artists’ appearance and the way their body looks. We need to continue speaking up about mental health and make it easier to access help.