In this post-lockdown (we hope) world, where COVID is under some semblance of control but the threat of a vax-dodging mutation is always lingering, the subject of mental health has never been more relevant. It’s always been relevant, but the world has just been through a pandemic the likes of which we’ve never experienced before. It was draining, terrifying, and utterly exhausting for everyone. For people already struggling with their mental health, it was devastating.
In the music world, it’s all too depressingly familiar when we hear about a beloved artist that has been taken from us after suffering with mental health struggles — whether it’s an overdose due to self-medication, or a suicide. It’s confusing and traumatizing, and we wish that the person in question could have asked for help. Because help is out there.
Theresa Wolters is the vice president of Health & Human Services at MusiCares, a registered 501c3 organization launched by the Recording Academy in 1989.
“MusiCares was created as a safety net for the humans behind music because music gives so much to the world,” says Wolters. “Since 1989, MusiCares has provided support to 134,000 music professionals through $105 million in financial assistance for health, human, mental health, and addiction recovery needs. In the early years, MusiCares provided support to hundreds of music professionals annually, and has now grown to reach 20,000 music professionals annually through financial assistance and other programs.”
It’s an invaluable resource for those that need it, and those that know about it. Awareness is key, and MusiCares is doing all it can.
“In 2005, MusiCares was one of the first organizations on the ground in New Orleans to support relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina, eventually providing $4 million in support to music professionals in the affected Gulf Coast communities,” says Wolters. “In March 2020, MusiCares urgently recognized and responded to the devastating impact of COVID-19 on music professionals and has since provided $37.5 million in financial assistance to 47,000 music professionals. As MusiCares continues to deepen our impact with music professionals, we remain committed to our core values: service, inclusivity, empowerment, and integrity.”
There are rules: Music professionals need to have a minimum of five years employment in the music industry or six commercially released recordings or videos to qualify for help with MusiCares. “Music professionals” can include singers and songwriters, engineers, tour security, photographers, and more.
There’s merit to the notion that people working in the arts are particularly susceptible to mental health issues, including depression.
“MusiCares conducts an in-depth annual wellness survey,” says Wolters. “Responses from our most recent survey, conducted in late 2021 and released in early 2022, demonstrate that 56% of music professionals responding indicated moderately high to very high levels of anxiety. During this same period, the CDC reports 30% of the U.S. adult population had symptoms of anxiety. Our data indicates that music professionals are reporting mental health issues at higher levels than the general population. There may be several reasons for this, including the physical and health demands of this work, the financial variability and economic insecurity for many individuals in the music industry, as well as a disconnect between the perception and realities of working in the music industry.”
“Oftentimes, musicians can be more right-brain dominant,” said psychotherapist Michele Blair when speaking to this writer in 2021. “So more creative on the emotional side of things. Of course, that can create much more sensitivity to life and surroundings, and be more in tune with all of those things. It can maybe set one up to be a bit more vulnerable to that. Also, part of the wonder and miracle of being human beings is that, in general, we’re real survivors. Our systems and our bodies try to find ways to self-regulate and make it through tough times. If people have been through some trauma, it’s very common to turn to music to survive those times.”
That disconnect is huge. The public at large hears about Chris Cornell succumbing to his struggles and wonders how somebody so beloved, successful and popular could have anything to be depressed about. Of course, that’s not how depression works.
“Mental health challenges don’t discriminate based on levels of fame or perceived success,” says Wolters. “The music community has devastatingly and tragically lost beloved artists. These losses remind us how important it is to be informed of the signs and symptoms of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and other mental health issues in ourselves and others.”
“It’s a lack of empathy,” said clinical psychiatrist Michael Mollura when speaking to this writer in 2021. “It’s hard to imagine what it’s like to be in a position of fame of that nature. One of the biggest problems I think that comes up in that situation is misidentification. We identify Kurt Cobain or Chris Cornell as a certain idea, which they can’t nor do they want to live up to. It becomes a constant burden on the ego to be seen a certain way. Imagine living like that. It’s extremely overwhelming, and creates all anxiety, then potentially depression and other mental disorders such as schizophrenia.”
COVID-19, Wolters says, resulted in a rise in mental health issues but also increased resources and research.
“In comparing data from the MusiCares wellness surveys in 2020 and 2021, we saw an increase (from 35% to 50%) in the percent of respondents who sought counseling for anxiety, depression or stress,” she says. “Additionally, in recent years, several high-visibility artists have been vocal about their respective mental health challenges. As artists we admire discuss their own mental health challenges, seeking healthcare is increasingly normalized and de-stigmatized. While this is encouraging progress, we still see persistent stigma, as well as a lack of access to mental health resources, particularly in historically marginalized communities. For this reason, MusiCares continues to prioritize access to mental health and addiction recovery for music professionals, as well as weekly support groups and informational sessions on a range of mental health topics.”
Thank god they’re around.
Reach Out to MusiCares: If you or somebody you know needs help, email the MusiCares relief box at firstname.lastname@example.org or via phone at 800-687-4227.
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