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Musicians, madness and mental health

In this weeks blog, I’ll be looking at the topic of musicians and the media portrayal of the ‘troubled genius’.


The media have often viewed the creative artist in general as a kind of mad genius, echoing the general assumption of linking mental health problems with musicians. From this sensationalist lens, musicians are often seen and stereotyped as struggling, tortured artists. This cliched media narrative dates back to the age old classic tales surrounding the Rock n Roll excess of Elvis Presley, Janis Joplin, Keith Moon, Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix, to name but a few. But how much of it is nurture and how much of it is nature…a big question?


What attracts those musicians with a rebellious nature to the messier of musical genre of popular forms? Also, alternatively, what is it about the music industry that facilitates this excess? And where and when does this behaviour lean into mental health struggle?


From my own perspective of being a musician (and a psychotherapist working with this community) I’m still undecided, although, as a caveat, I do think musicians are innately more sensitive and attuned to emotional experiences.


Whether or not this is helped or exasperated by music industry engagement, is a complex area! Psychological studies involving classical musicians have previously linked creativity to mental health difficulties, and these researchers have also suggested that creativity is a prerequisite to professional musicking with the accompanying risk of mental health struggles and disorders (read the study).


It could therefore be assumed that creative artists are potentially genetically predisposed to mental health struggles due to the innate creativity (Berg et al., 2022) needed to exist in the world of music (read the study). The extent to which this is made worse within the occupational environment is still yet to be seen.


As a caveat to the innate vulnerability and personality traits in musicians, music (occupational or personal) can also help mental health. Expressing ourselves through melody, harmony and cultivating a sense of identity I our nuanced environments can actually be helpful for mental health.


This perspective is often overlooked in the media and existing research surrounding this topic. It was this scant research base which ultimately provided the rationale for my own investigation into this area. Yes, the industry can be tough, yes, we musicians can be a bit emotionally wobbly, but... Yes, the music industry can also help us at times. This is often overlooked by the objective researchers looking into a little bowl of ants in research land.


Watch this space... In the meantime, there are three radio shows available on the mix cloud where I explore the real lives of musicians from their own perspectives.


 

Adam Ficek hosts a monthly show 'Tonic Music' on Totally Wired Radio, where he talks to various guests about music and mental health. You can listen again to any of the previous show on the Tonic Music Mixcloud page.


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