It’s long been the case that the creative industries are some of the toughest to break into. But even once an artist cuts through the noise there are still plenty of challenges, many of them emotional, to overcome when pursuing a career in the arts. The unpredictability of earnings, constant exposure to feedback and inconsistent definitions of success have very real impacts on health and wellbeing. For a long time, the impact of the industry on mental health was only documented anecdotally. Last year, the UK-based charity Help Musicians UK released a groundbreaking report that found musicians are three times more likely to suffer from mental health issues than the rest of the population.
At the last in the dBs Dialogues series, a group of experts gathered to talk about how the industry can create a better environment for its future artists and creative practitioners. Facilitated by Francine Gorman, a content producer and music consultant, panelists Christine Brown, director of external affairs for Help Musicians UK; Christopher Jarman, DJ and dBs Tutor; and Sunny Eri Dub aka Black Elektronika, DJ, entrepreneur and dBs Student, shared their experiences of the impact on their wellbeing of working in the industry and offered practical tips for the audience.
Presented with figures from the report that found 71% of musicians said they experience anxiety and 65% said they suffer from depression, the panelists agreed they were not surprised as it chimed with their own experiences. One panelist described DJing as the “perfect storm” for mental health issues, referring to long stints of isolating work, exposure to drugs and alcohol and gruelling tour schedules.
The advent of social media was also discussed as having a potential negative effect on mental health. Artists are expected to maintain a strong online presence and promote their work through their own social networks. This can have a detrimental effect, particularly on artists just starting out, who are putting themselves and their work out there and receiving disappointing feedback.
In response to these challenges, boundary setting came up as an important solution for maintaining good mental health as a creative professional. In relation to mitigating the negative effects of social media, this could mean cultivating a strategy that involves allocating a specified amount of time to online promotion. The panelists also agreed that while social media can have negative consequences, on the whole it’s opened up the creative field in an unprecedented manner and if artists can find a professional way to use it that works for them, it’s a powerful tool.
The panelists also talked frankly about money. Financial worries are known to have an impact on depression and anxiety; the uncertainties of the creative industries does little to alleviate these concerns. On top of that, unlike other career paths, success as an artist often can’t be measured in financial terms. The panelists all agreed it’s vital for artists to define their own measures of success, which can be anything from a certain number of streams on a track to even just completing a creative process.
The biggest takeaway from the discussion was the importance of education, with the panelists expressing an industry-wide need for tools that educate and enable artists to be stronger. We can’t expect people to succeed if we don’t enable them.
Check out the highlights and related resources below and click here to watch the full panel discussion.
Creative industries and mental health
Help Musicians UK: UK-based charity for musicians. Offers a helpline for people based in the UK, as well as online resources and information
Power Suit Social: UK-based network that aims to keep creativity viable in uncertain times. They run events in the UK but also have a podcast and newsletter with insights into making a sustainable living in the creative industries
Money and Mental Health Policy Institute: UK-based charity committed to breaking the link between financial difficulty and mental health problems. Provides resources and services for those struggling with their finances.
Investing in your creativity: TED talk about making income while pursuing a career in the creative arts
Headspace: Meditation and mindfulness app
Calm: Meditation and mindfulness app
Online mental health resources
Mind: UK-based mental health charity, provides online resources
Healthline: US-based health information provider, has a good page on when and how to seek mental health advice (NB: some suggested services are in the US)
ACT Berlin: network of English speaking therapists and counselors in Berlin
For more dBs Dialogues highlights, check out our discussion on living with others.