There is a Mental Health Crisis in the Music Industry

Seventy-three per cent of musicians suffer from mental illness in relation to their music creation, according to a global survey from Record Union, an upload-based platform. 

The survey revealed the two most common explanations of why independent music makers experience anxiety, depression and panic attacks are the fear of failure and financial instability. 

“To write and create you want to be able to live,” says Akeem Ouellet, a singer, songwriter, producer and DJ from Northern Ontario, currently based in Ottawa, Ont. 

He is also referred to as Akeem Oh and known for writing music that reflects his mental health and what’s going on in his life. 

“For the longest time, I felt like it was only me dealing with these things,” says Oh. “Often you’ll feel very alone when you deal with your own mental health struggles, then you realize that you have friends that are dealing with that, family and even strangers.”

There were days he felt like staying in bed and did not want to do anything, feeling like he was “not good enough for pretty much anyone or good enough to pursue music,” Oh says. 

Oh says many music makers struggle in the industry when they get into the business side of things. 

“The industry is often run by people who forgot why they were creating at first,” Oh says. “When money comes into the game and the business side comes in, you become a product.” 

Sophie Moreau-Parent, better known as Sophie D’Orléans, is an indie soul singer-songwriter form Orleans, Ont. D’Orléans says she spent last winter burnt-out after coming back home from tour. 

“It sucks the energy out of you to plan things,” says D’Orléans. “From the exterior, people think that it’ll come easily to me, but it doesn’t necessarily. It’s a lot of decision making and it’s really draining.”

The pressure to succeed gets worse the older she gets, D’Orléans says. 

“I tend to compare myself and my path to other people,” says D’Orléans “I feel like I’m doing something wrong because I feel like I should be doing it their way.”     

There are different resources available to Canadian musicians who are struggling. Cassandra Popescu, marketing and communications manager at the Unison Benevolent Fund says the rise of streaming services is causing smaller musicians some difficulty in regard to promoting their work.

“They’re increasingly going on more tours which is another thing that affects a musician's mental health,” says Popescu.

The Unison Benevolent Fund is a not-for-profit organization that provides emergency financial assistance, free counselling through an organization called Morneau Shepell, crisis support, legal guidance, and health solutions to Canadian music professionals. It provides aid to Canadians in the music industry with basic expenses, medical bills, dental bills, and groceries. 

“A lot of people who work in the music industry often don’t have a benefit plan, they are working paycheque to paycheque,” says Popescu.

The survey by Record Union states 54 per cent of musicians said they have self-medicated most likely through the use of alcohol and 50 per cent through drugs. 

Zac Crouse, a recreational therapist, specializing in leisure activities says substance abuse and mental illness are directly related to poverty and trauma. 

“We have poor people who can’t afford to take time off work to go see a psychiatrist, who can’t afford to fix themselves,” says Crouse. “Musicians have an unstable income, if any.” 

Crouse says that the stigma around mental illness remains widespread because “people can’t see the mechanism of injury.” He suggests that musicians can make lifestyle changes in order to save money, such as eating out less, eating healthier, sleeping more, and taking days off to recharge.

Record Union’s survey states that 29 per cent of independent musicians said they do not talk about their mental health and wellbeing because they do not have anyone to talk to. 

Erin Benjamin, CEO and president of the Canadian Live Music Association commented on the different ways the music industry could improve by identifying the struggles of musicians and of people that work in the industry, and then addressing their needs. 

Taking these steps can lead to developing programs and services, says Benjamin. 

 “Finding resources to pay for those services, getting the say in encouraging people who are struggling and getting them to seek help, and building pure support network so that everyone knows what is available to them at any time,” she says. 

Benjamin and Popescu believe that supporting local musicians will help boost Canadian culture economy. 

Benjamin adds that Canadians should support local venues by listening to local music, streaming it, calling radio stations, and purchasing CDs. 

“People can go to see live shows, buy a ticket, take a friend, take two friends, if you like it go back and see them again,” says Benjamin.