Help Musicians UK releases final ‘Can Music Make You Sick?’ report

Independent music charity, Help Musicians UK (HMUK), has released the final findings of its Can Music Make You Sick? report and announced three key pledges for the music industry:

  • to establish a Music Industry Mental Health Taskforce to lead the drive for change across the industry
  • to launch a 24/7 mental health service, Music Minds Matter, for anyone working in the music industry, combining clinical and therapeutic help, grant funding and bespoke legal, welfare, debt and benefits advice
  • to advocate for change across the industry by igniting support in the UK and globally for Music Minds Matter with key industry partnerships and collaborations

HMUK originally commissioned Can Music Make You Sick? in 2016. Surveying over 2,200 musicians, the research revealed that the music community may be up to three times more likely to experience depression compared to the general public and provided insight into the scale of the problem of musicians’ mental health challenges – and how this can be further impacted by a career in music – to find out how the charity can help and support those who need it most in the music community.

This new and final study, published by MusicTank and undertaken by researchers, Sally Gross and Dr George Musgrave of the University of Westminster, asked the music community how their working conditions have impacted on their mental health and general wellbeing. It comprises semi-structured interviews with 26 respondents from a broad cross-section of the industry and includes the following key insights and recommendations:

  • Money worries – a career in music is often precarious and unpredictable. Many musicians have several different jobs as part of a portfolio career and, as a result, get little time to take a break. It can be hard for musicians to admit to insecurities because of needing to compete with others and wanting to appear on top of things. Musicians can also find it hard to access affordable professional help for mental health issues.
  • Poor working conditions – music-makers can be reflective and highly self-critical and exist in a working and personal environment of constant critical feedback. As many musicians are self-employed, their work can result in feelings of isolation when it comes to dealing with mental health problems.
  • Relationship challenges – family, friends and partners play an important role in supporting musicians but these relationships can come under huge pressure and strain.
  • Sexual abuse/bullying/discrimination – musicians’ working environments can be anti-social and unsympathetic with some people experiencing sexual abuse, harassment, bullying and coercion.

The summary of recommendations was as follows:

  • Education – discussion of mental health awareness should be embedded in curriculum in music education courses and wider discussion should be stimulated in the music industry with working musicians.
  • A code of best practice – allied to a commitment of kindness and tolerance to act as voluntary demonstration of an organisation’s awareness of mental health issues in the music industry and an understanding of the challenges faced by creative workers.
  • A mental health support service for the music community – professional mental health services that are affordable and accessible.

Christine Brown, Director of External Affairs, HMUK, said:

‘HMUK is uniquely placed to commission and share the results of this important, game-changing study. 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.

‘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.’

Researchers, Sally Gross and Dr George Musgrave, said:

‘This research is a crucial step forward in our understanding of the complex relationship between the working conditions of musicians and mental health conditions. 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.’

HMUK Trustee, Baroness Judith Jolly, said:

‘This is one of the most groundbreaking and important projects that the charity has undertaken in its 96-year history. The HMUK Trustees are delighted and are in full support of this life-changing research and the launch of the Music Minds Matter service. I call for the industry to engage with and support the report’s recommendations, especially at this time when there is a clear and urgent need for change.’

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