Help Musicians UK has released the final findings and recommendations of its research into mental health in the industry.

UK independent music charity Help Musicians UK has released the final report and findings from its Music and Depression (MAD) Campaign, which saw data collected through a 2016 survey – Can Music Make You Sick? – of over 2,200 musicians. The organisation has also announced three key pledges for the music industry in the UK, including building a music industry Mental Health Taskforce, delivering a nationwide mental health support service named Music Minds Matter, to be launched in December this year, and advocating for change across the music industry.

This latest research, which is the final study to emerge from the MAD campaign and has been published by MusicTank, was conducted by Sally Gross and Dr George Musgrave from the University of Westminster and drew on semi-structured interviews with 26 respondents – from across the music industry – taken from last year’s survey, which also included case studies, including British concert pianist James Rhodes as a representative of classical music. This new study follows on from the earlier research by delving deeper into what it is specifically that is affecting the mental health of musicians. The 26 respondents were asked about their experiences working in the industry and how they understood these impacted on their mental health and well-being.

The study identified a number of factors that can impact on the mental health of musicians, but the key insights included money worries, poor working conditions, relationship challenges and sexual abuse/bullying/discrimination.

“Concerns about money were a constant theme in the conversations with musicians,” the report said. “Some emerging artists are working one or more jobs in order to not only survive, but also to subsidise their music making. As a result, some respondents said they couldn’t plan their lives or futures as they’d like, and spoke about a creeping sense of self-doubt when they saw peers achieving life goals such as buying a house, getting married or going on holiday.”

The study also identified the pressures that careers in music place on relationships, including unsocial working house and time spent away recording, touring or promoting releases as another factor impacting the mental health of musicians.

The prevalence of discrimination, harassment and abuse was also a factor. “Some musicians in the study spoke of their first-hand experience of discrimination, ageism, sexual harassment and abuse,” the report said. “Working in these conditions is known to lead to mental health problems such as increased stress, depression and anxiety.”

The reports recommendations includes embedding the discussion of mental health awareness in music education curriculums as well as throughout the industry, the creating of a code of best practice, to act as voluntary demonstration of an organisation’s awareness of mental health issues and finally a mental health support service for the music community, providing professional mental health services that are affordable and accessible.

It is these recommendations that HMUK will address in its three key pledges. “HMUK is uniquely placed to commission and share the results of this important, game-changing study,” said HMUK’s Director of External Affairs Christine Brown in a statement on the organisation’s website. “The charity granted nearly two million pounds last year to those that need it most in the industry, so it is a natural step to examine the key issues and make a call to action to help implement wider, lasting change in the industry, namely HMUK’s three key pledges.”

“The British music industry is in rude health and has a world class reputation – but to continue the long-term wellbeing of the industry and its workers, we aim to create a constructive forum for discussion, partnership and collaboration,” she said. “Through the new Music Minds Matter service, we are closer to providing the crucial support, advice and education the music community desperately needs. Together we can continue to chip away at the stigma, so that in the long term those working in the community never have to suffer in silence.”

“This research is a crucial step forward in our understanding of the complex relationship between the working conditions of musicians and mental health conditions,” said the researchers behind the study, Gross and Musgrave. “The honesty and poignancy of our interviewees has made possible this important work, and informed the service provision being implemented by Help Musicians UK, and for that we are truly thankful. We welcome the new service Music Minds Matter and hope that this research can spark a wider debate both in the music industry about the welfare of those at its heart, and more generally about the challenging nature of precarious work.”

Read the full report

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