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Exploring music's mental health issue

Manitoba Music conversation to delve into thehardships of being a full-time musician

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/1/2018 (854 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Lots of people dream about living the rock star life — the excessive amounts of money, parties every night and lavish homes and trips, all while doing a relatively small amount of work.

But the reality for most full-time musicians is much different; it’s a life of touring, the expectation to quickly produce new content, financial instability and constant judgment.

A staggering number of music-industry professionals all over the world -- including here at home -- are struggling with mental-health issues either because of, or exacerbated by, their jobs. (Mike Moloney / </p>

A staggering number of music-industry professionals all over the world -- including here at home -- are struggling with mental-health issues either because of, or exacerbated by, their jobs. (Mike Moloney /

In 2016, Help Musicians UK commissioned the University of Westminster and MusicTank — a sector-based knowledge and development network based out of Westminster — to do a study on the working conditions of musicians. What resulted was Can Music Make You Sick?, the largest known study of musicians’ mental health.

More than 2,000 respondents took part in the survey that ran industry-wide, with 71.1 per cent believing they had experienced panic attacks and/or high levels of anxiety, while 68.5 per cent reported they had experienced clinical depression.

The numbers are alarming, and are by no means limited to the U.K. — a staggering number of music-industry professionals all over the world, including here at home, are struggling with mental-health issues either because of, or exacerbated by, their jobs.

The prevalence of mental illness in the music industry is nothing new, but what has changed is an increased desire to talk about it. So, as part of this year’s January Music Meeting — a mini-conference focused on the business of music — Manitoba Music, along with Big Fun Festival, is hosting a Mental Health in Music discussion.

The free event will be facilitated by Uzoma Asagwara, a Winnipeg-based entrepreneur, registered psychiatric nurse and the founder of QPOC Winnipeg, and will feature a short presentation on mental health awareness and literacy by Jón Olafson, a registered clinical therapist, DJ, and educator in the counselling psychology department at the University of Manitoba.

Manitoba Music executive director Sean McManus says events such as this one are a response to situations they are observing in the local music community, as well as what their membership has expressly dictated a need for.

"I think we’ve become more aware, and I think our members have become more aware as well, of their physical health and their mental health and how important it is and how it’s affected by this industry that we’re in," he says.

"It’s become something people are chatting more about and we’ve certainly become more engaged in figuring out how we can point people to resources or provide resources here when it’s possible to do that."

McManus points out that the industry is shifting away from merchandise-based revenue, relying more on touring to make money, which puts a lot more pressure on artists and likely relates to the high levels of anxiety, depression and other mental-health issues.

"The artists are at the centre of the business structure now more than ever, so there’s a lot of responsibility, there’s more workload and that hasn’t necessarily come with increases in revenue," he says.

"The way that the revenue has shifted in the industry — away from selling products and toward touring — means that there’s a bigger demand for artists to be on the road more and that’s hard on both your physical and mental health. And so it’s an unusual lifestyle and there’s a lot of pressure there and that’s definitely had an impact."

Lauren Swan, one of the organizers of the Big Fun Festival, agrees the lifestyle of your average musician or artist is often very difficult and draining.

"There are so many elements within a musician’s day-to-day life and job, like touring, which is so all over the place and you’re crammed into a bus or a van with seven other people and driving long distances and sleeping on floors, there’s that, and then there’s just being in the spotlight in general, and your art that you’ve been creating that’s sometimes very, very personal is out there for the world to critique," Swan says.

"I think that there is just a lot of elements that are part of being an artist that can be really stressful and hard to deal with if you’re also dealing with mental-health issues."

Swan is hoping the discussion will not only provide a safe space for those in the music industry to talk about their experiences with mental illness, but also be used as a way to share information about resources that are available to help those in need.

"One of the things that I’ve found is a barrier to a lot of people is as an artist or musician, your income isn’t really stable and you also probably don’t have benefits that would pay for therapy or some of these resources, so being able to talk about things that are available for people who work within the music community... that will really help them," she says.

More information about the event can be found at  Twitter: @NireRabel


Erin Lebar

Erin Lebar
Multimedia producer

Erin Lebar is a multimedia producer who spends most of her time writing music- and culture-related stories for the Arts & Life section. She also co-hosts the Winnipeg Free Press's weekly pop-culture podcast, Bury the Lede.

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