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Mental Health In The Music Industry: The Pioneers Who Spoke Up
© adrian lourie / Alamy Stock Photo
In Depth

Mental Health In The Music Industry: The Pioneers Who Spoke Up

Pioneering discussions around mental health in the music industry, these artists reveal their personal struggles and advice for recovery.

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2020? What a weird year. Festivals and gigs? Cancelled. Trips? Cancelled. Social interaction? Cancelled (for the most part). So while everyone has been sat at home – either working remotely, furloughed or not working at all – getting used to “the new norm” without seeing our favourite musicians or hanging with friends, it’s understandable this might take its toll on our mental health. And for the artists whose livelihoods have been affected? Mental health in the music industry is a relatively unexplored topic, but a few pioneers have spoken out about their own experiences, encouraging others to do the same.

mental health in the music industry

“Millions are still struggling”

Imagine your brain as an organ with muscles, doing its own workout every day so it can stay healthy – that might be through yoga, meditation, being outdoors, doing some reading, enjoying some alone time or talking to a therapist, whatever works for your brain.

A June 2020 report published by the Mental Health Foundation referenced that almost one in five UK adults felt hopeless. One of the groups most seriously affected was young adults, with almost one-third of 18- to 24-year-olds surveyed saying they felt hopeless as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. “What our research shows is that even as lockdown is easing, millions are still struggling,” said Dr Antonis Kousoulis, Director at the Mental Health Foundation.

It’s not only regular folk who struggle. While we think mental-health maintenance may be easier for famous musicians who lead luxurious lifestyles, an increasing number of artists have been speaking out about the importance of mental health and opening up about their personal struggles.

Mental health in the music industry

Mental health is becoming more important than ever and yet the topic is still not commonplace enough in everyday conversations. A number of artists are, however, going out of their way to help combat that stigma, and have begun to speak about mental health in the music industry. The truth is, every single person should feel as confident speaking about their mental health as they do their physical health, and that’s a movement we’d like to get on board with.

So what advice are these artists giving?

Don’t worry about “labelling”

Alanis Morissette, famous for 90s hit Ironic and being one of music’s best-known alt-rock female artists, released her song Diagnosis in April 2020, and it touched the hearts of listeners everywhere (especially those who also knew the struggles of mental health). Singing of feeling debilitated, as if she were folding in on herself, Morissette sings, “Call it what you want/’Cause I don’t even care anymore/Call me what you want to/To make yourself comfortable.”

“this song. postpartum and mental challenge love,” she posted on Twitter. Embarking on her journey dealing with depression, it highlights the real challenges the singer had faced as she described feeling “out of order”. The song’s powerful chorus shines a light on how those who suffer from mental health issues fear being labelled. Morissette is trying to emphasise that labels other people give you just don’t matter; what matters is how you feel inside and how you can get better. The underlying message is that nobody’s “diagnosis” defines you. Labels don’t matter, but seeking appropriate help does.

Don’t hide how you’re feeling

Adele is one of the highest-paid and most successful female artists of our time, best known for her mezzo-soprano voice, luscious copper hair and such No.1 hits as Someone Like You and Hello (not to mention her 2020 body transformation – you look great, Adele!). But something people may not know: she suffered from serious postpartum depression just after her son, Angelo, was born. Adele has since revealed the overwhelming feelings of inadequacy she felt as a mother, brought on by the depression that stopped her from reaching out to anyone about her concerns. Since confiding in friends and family, and seeking therapy, she has found comfort in learning that many women have been through the exact same thing – she was not alone.

Describing her own experiences with therapy, Adele said, “The music I’ve always been drawn to is sad. I’ve always been pretty melancholy. Obviously not as much in my real life as the songs are, but I have a very dark side. It started when my granddad died, when I was about 10, and while I never had a suicidal thought, I have been in therapy, lots.”

People struggling with their own mental health issues often feel that nobody else can relate, and that they are all alone. In fact, there are almost always other people feeling the exact same way, we just need to trust in confiding to friends and strangers alike; a problem shared is a problem halved.

Don’t give up

Demi Lovato, child Disney star and singer of the 2017 hit Sorry Not Sorry and 2020’s Anyone, is known for expressing her emotions both in and outside of her music. After being diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2011 and suffering from substance abuse, purging and self-harming, Lovato created the documentaries Stay Strong, in 2012, and Simply Complicated in 2017 to tell her ongoing story, while executive-producing a third, Beyond Silence. In Simply Complicated, Lovato shared her challenges suffering from an eating disorder: “Food is still the biggest challenge in my life,” she said. “I don’t want to give it the power to say it controls my every thought, but it’s something I’m constantly thinking about.”

Incredibly honest about her own journey, and a real pioneer for speaking up about mental health in the music industry, Lovato isn’t afraid to seek help herself and has entered rehab facilities several times, most notably after suffering an overdose in July 2018. In August of that year, she told her Instagram followers, “I have always been transparent about my journey with addiction. What I’ve learned is that this illness is not something that disappears or fades with time.”

Due to being so open about her journey, Lovato is now a huge influence in the mental health space, sharing her positive inspiration on Twitter: “It is possible to live well and thrive with a mental illness.” We are all here for this kind of positivity.

Exercise, loved ones and a balanced lifestyle

One of the most prominent voices behind the support for mental health in the music industry, Ed Sheeran – songwriter, record producer and best-selling singer of hits such as Shape Of You and Thinking Out Loud – didn’t have the easiest journey to stardom. His gateway (and tear-jerking) song We Are, which led to his discovery and signing with Atlantic, was actually about his best friend, Stuart Dines, who tragically died in a car accident. Sheeran turned to music as an outlet to process his feelings and wrote the song when trying to come to terms with his grief.

The four-time Grammy-winner has also spoken out about his relationships with binging, alcohol, anxiety and his “addictive personality”. In the documentary Finding Peace At The Top Of The Music Industry, Sheeran confided that during his world tour of 2014 and 2015 he “would stay up and drink all night and then sleep on the bus… that was probably like the lowest that I’ve been and I kind of ballooned in weight… I felt, what was the point? In a dark way, like, why am I around? What is the point?” Sheeran bares all in the film and shares his deepest, darkest thoughts, including how alcohol effects his well-being.

Revealing that he would rather drink two bottles of wine than a single glass showcases the darker sides of drinking, and just how toxic and serious alcohol addiction can be. It is a part of so many lives and yet alcoholism can so often go undetected. Sheeran found his way out of the darkness through finding a new love for art, healthy eating and exercise, creating a balance in his life and receiving the support of his wife, Cherry, who helped him establish new routines involving regular running and barely drinking any alcohol at all. Embarking on this healthier lifestyle “really changed things”, helping Sheeran to feel “more comfortable and happier”.

In 2019, Sheeran teamed up with Prince Harry for World Mental Health day to discuss how important it is to spread awareness of mental health issues, and how they want to help anyone who feels they are struggling. We fully support this mission to encourage as many artists as possible to come forward and use their platform. When artists share their own experiences of mental health in the music industry, it brings us all together.

If you have been struggling with any mental health issues, or can relate to any of the experiences in this article, and would like to seek help, there are several online resources you can use:

Visit Mental Health Forum to chat to peers and experienced professionals.

Visit BetterHelp for online paid counselling and therapy sessions.

Calm can assist meditation and mindfulness practice.

For immediate support and a wide range of other resources to help deal with mental health struggles, visit Mind

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