Mental Health, Suicide and the Music Industry

MORAG FARLEY

 

“It is a disease, it does kill; in fact it kills more people each year than cancer. Everyone is fine talking about cancer - and so they should be - but cancer has all these charities that fund research, yet mental health gets no research funding from the government. It’s an absolute crime” Ginger Wildheart - 2016

 

In August 2017, Ginger Wildheart hospitalised with mental health problems. He is one of the many talented musicians to be affected and has been quite vocal about his suffering. Recent studies indicate that one in four people will suffer from a mental health problem during their lifetime. For many people, it is a condition which dominates their being, and permeates every aspect of their life. It isn’t an easy thing to talk about, or to seek help for.  Mental health charities and professionals work incredibly hard to de-stigmatise mental health in its various forms. It is portrayed in the media as a taboo subject. A physical ailment is much easier to recognise and talk about. Don't we all want to ask about how the neighbour broke his leg? How long he was waiting in A&E for?  Behind the closed doors of our neighbours and friends are people with poor mental health which is just as deserving a topic of conversation - a part of someone's life you could help them with.  There are many talented musicians who suffer in silence. Creating music for us all to enjoy but enduring the pain of mental illness as they do so.

 

The lucky ones get the help they need at the right time. The others see the only way out is to stop existing. In the 10 years from 2004, 64,392 people in the UK died by suicide. Of those, approximately 28% had been in contact with mental health services. Leaving 72% suffering with little or no help.

 

It is not easy to identify the causes of increased rates of depression and suicide, but anecdotal evidence suggests that the development of society, the increased use of social media give the opportunity to ‘show off’ in a way that we have never done before. Exaggerating the good, minimising the difficulties creates an illusion that everyone else has a perfect, full life. The reality is so different. There are financial pressures, peer pressure, work and social responsibilities that, when compared to those of others can be overwhelming.

 

In recent times, there have been many reported suicides of prominent, well known musicians. Those people who we would look at and think they had everything - why would they suffer from depression to the point where they felt they could no longer exist. Outwardly, they had people around them to talk to about their illness. Inwardly, things are often very different. Chris Cornell is a prime example. He was a brilliant musician, a fabulous singer with a stable family life. Outwardly, he was living the dream that so many talented musicians have. Yet his mental health problems led to him taking his own life. We may never know the precise circumstances, or what happened in the few hours, days and weeks before he died, but what is clear is that the underlying reason was his mental health.

 

The music industry is one based on the creativity of individuals.  Being able to write lyrics that touch fans, skillfully playing instruments, writing the music to go with the crafted lyrics. Without doubt, they pour their heart and soul into their songs, their music and the performance. They are expressing themselves in a way that many of us will never completely understand, on a level so deep that most of us will never experience or be able to articulate.

 

In recent years, the exponential development of social media makes us all easily accessible. For good or for bad. Conversations are often centred on what has been posted on social media. Many bands and artists now not only have their own presence, but also fans create, for example, fan groups. What goes on social media, stays on social media. It cannot be erased. That is great when it is positive feedback. How fantastic the new album is, or how much we enjoyed last night’s gig. However, when that feedback is negative it hurts. It damages confidence and can lead the recipient down the road of asking ‘why bother’ ‘I'm not good enough’. Expressing the way we feel about an album, a band or a genre is natural. It is also normal to be hurt when that view is personal. Musicians express themselves in a very open way. They expose their innermost feelings. Their words come from the heart and soul. They create, and as is human nature, they want and need their talents to be accepted and welcomed.

 

One of the driving factors in life is the need to make money. We all need it to live, to eat, and to exist. We earn it by doing what we do best - usually it is something we enjoy, too. Those with a musical talent should be able to make enough money to live by creating, performing and entertaining us.

Musicians make their money primarily through recording and selling their work, performing, and related merchandise, such as tee shirts. They can do all of this, and still not make enough money to have any degree of stability. Where is the logic that a band performing other people’s songs can earn more from a gig than one performing its own original work? Do we pay more money for an original piece of artwork or a copy?

 

I have been lucky enough to meet a fair few musicians after they have performed. One thing that they all have in common is their desire to know if their performance was good enough. There is a drive to be ‘the best’. To entertain their audience. To make sure they have had a good time. Nothing else will do. There is no half measure. After a gig or a tour, when they have spent a week, a month or just an evening doing the things they dream of, day-to-day life returns. What happens next? Will the next email be someone offering a gig? Will we finally get that record deal? Is that track good enough? The uncertainty and instability of the profession are underlying factors in why there are mental health issues in the music industry. Being able to talk about these issues may be the key to their mental health. Having someone to talk to, someone who is there to help, to put things into perspective, to support them through the bad times, and to be there when they come through the other side may be all they need. Knowing where they can access help is crucial.

 

SANE (www.sane.org.uk) is a charity devoted to improving the quality of life for people affected by mental illness through care and emotional support. On October 18th 2017 there will be a benefit gig ‘Taming the Black Dog’ presented by Nambucca Live and Cairo Son. It will be a night of live music and entertainment to raise awareness about mental health and suicide. Tickets are £10 and all proceeds will be going to SANE to help them in the work that they do to help all those affected and combat the stigma that is attached to mental illness as well as campaigning to improve mental health services. I urge you to set aside one night to help those who are affected and get down to Nambucca, 596 Holloway Road, London N7 6LB. Further information about SANE, its activities and principles can be found at www.sane.org.uk)

 

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“Depression is not ‘being a bit sad’ it is a condition which can suck the life out of sufferers.

 

If you know someone who’s depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn't a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather.

 

Try to understand the blackness, lethargy, hopelessness and loneliness they’re going through. Be there for them when they come through the other side. It’s hard to be a friend to someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest and best things you will ever do” - Stephen Fry

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