Why Psychological Analysis Shows We’re Right To Worry For Musicians’ Mental Health

17th May 2018

On Mental Health Awareness Week and following the sad death of Frightened Rabbit’s Scott Hutchison, Catherine Loveday & Sally-Anne Gross of the University of Westminster look at recent research into the psychological issues affecting musicians for The Quietus. We reproduce the opening of this important work here, with the full story available on thequietus.com (photo by Joe Puxley)

Last week brought the tragic news of the untimely death of Frightened Rabbit singer, Scott Hutchison. He had spoken openly about his struggles with anxiety and depression, and his songs reflected the turbulence of his inner life. Hutchison was not alone in facing these challenges – approximately one in four people in the UK will suffer from mental health difficulties each year, and every 40 seconds a person dies by suicide somewhere in the world. But a 2016 survey carried out by University of Westminster for Help Musicians UK suggests that the problem may be up to three times greater in professional musicians and those working in music – around 70% of whom reported suffering from anxiety and/or depression. This prompts an important question: does the music business attract people with a tendency to mental health problems, or could there be something inherently damaging about being a musician or working in the music industry?

Our research into this link between mental wellbeing and musicianship reveals a complex picture with many contributing factors. It may be true that people sensitive to psychological distress are more drawn to making music – it is a powerful natural emotion regulator. But this is a dangerous assumption to make because there are many external forces at work: the uncertainties around income and employment, the pressure to harness creativity on demand, the tensions around ideas of authenticity versus commercial success. And let’s not underestimate the effects of irregular routines on physical and mental well-being – poor eating habits, disrupted sleep and lack of exercise directly impact on the stress hormone cortisol, and other brain chemicals that regulate mood.

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