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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Why We're Talking About Music and Mental Health This Week


Written by Joe Zadeh — "This is how artists deteriorate," said Kendrick Lamar last year, speaking about how fame and touring affected his mental health, "if you don't catch yourself."

Whether we know it, talk about it, or try to brush it off, mental health affects every single one of us. In the UK, one in four of us will experience a mental health problem each year, yet one in five still believe that the main cause is simply "a lack of self-discipline and willpower".

In the last few years, it's felt as if some of that stigma has been removed, and we've become much better at talking about the stuff that happens in our head. While our government continues to damage and remove the infrastructure and support networks that are so key to those suffering, the public debate and sense of awareness is becoming louder and more empathetic by the day.

This week on Noisey, we've decided to mark Mental Health Awareness Week by focusing on a specific issue: mental health in the music industry. There is no evidence to suggest that just being an artist makes you more likely to encounter psychological problems, but it's become clear that the lifestyle which comes with a career in the music industry can exacerbate mental distress, especially when exposed to the harsh glare of fame and fandom, pressure and criticism, and the unstructured lifestyle of touring and recording.

According to a survey by Help Musicians UK, over 60% of musicians suffer from depression or other psychological problems at some point. Three in four experience performance anxiety, and loneliness or separation from family and friends. Worse still, less than half of the musicians who took the survey had thought to seek professional help.

Over the years, it has almost become routine for us to see artists struggle in broad daylight with the pressures of their lifestyle. Too often, these struggles are mishandled. It's become colloquial to hear musicians labelled "tortured geniuses"; their mental health problems fetishised and romanticised as some sort of magical well from which their art springs. Others are cast as having a "meltdown". For many, their plight is simply ignored, until something so serious happens it can't be ignored anymore.

This is changing. Artists suffering with mental health problems have become more willing to talk about them than ever before, and we are more willing than ever to listen and learn. Whether it was the dubstep producer Benga speaking about how he attributes his diagnosis of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia to his life as an artist, Olly Alexander from Years & Years opening up about his experiences with depression, or Asif Kapadia's 'Amy', which showed us how blind we can be to mental distress unfolding right before our eyes.

But what exactly is it about the life of a musician that presents so many challenges to mental health and wellbeing? How do our favourite artists cope when problems surface? Is the traditional structure of the British music industry doing enough or anything to support them? And how can we help the charities that are fighting everyday to improve conditions? These are all questions we'll be tackling this week on Noisey – with the aid and advice of Help Musicians UK – by launching the Noisey Guide to Music and Mental Health: a series of very special features, interviews, and short films.

We hope that by putting this together we can widen the debate, remove stigma, shed light on individual stories, improve the way the music industry talks and acts around mental health, and show how intrinsically linked music is to our minds.

We'll be publishing new content every day this week, and you can follow all it all on our home page here.

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