Continuing on from the previous blog surrounding the financial stress of musicking and how it can impact mental health, I now look at how these stressors can also manifest in substance use or other ways to make us feel better.
One study that underlines this correlation between financial pressures, occupational stress of professional musicking and the use of alcohol use was conducted in 2022 (Musician occupational and financial stress and mental health burden). This study of US popular musicians illustrated (again) how the freelance and hyper competitive nature of the musicking working environment has a significant impact on mental health problems when compared to lives of the general public. The study revealed high levels of occupational stress at 45.4%, with 81% feeling overwhelming financial stress, and 36% reporting moderate depression and anxiety. Alcohol use was high and reported at 65.4%. Surprisingly, this was reported to be uncorrelated with the occupational difficulties and financial precarity, confusing eh? This report did contradict other studies linking occupational stress and alcohol but I feel this may have been influenced by the general availability of drink and drugs in the working environment not being reported as a cause but part of the ‘coping environment’. I guess we’ll never know for sure!
The research also highlighted that 72% of the musicians in the study were satisfied with their career, yet they were also more likely to experience depression and anxiety than other vocations, (rated as high or overwhelming by the majority of those involved). Are musicians more sensitive to these emotional struggles?
One other interesting and inspiring factor of the study also revealed that a large proportion of the musicians had undergone therapy for at least two years previously and were generally open to mental health interventions. Despite these mixed findings, the research, like many others, remained focused on the detrimental, emotional aspects of musicking, with the positive factors being given less prominence.
Further exploring occupational insecurity and emotional distress a recent online survey involving 229 mixed genre, professional musicians found similar results. (Persisting with a music career despite the insecurity). These artists were drawn from a wide demographic of genres such as rock, jazz, classical and pop Other genres included folk, indie, contemporary, world music, country, film and television. The participants were assessed using questionnaires with a focus on career insecurity, co-worker support, work motivation, problematic drinking, emotional exhaustion and intentions to leave the profession. The study illustrated how career insecurity was a major source of stress for professional musicians, with 87% reporting the need for a second job.
The research also found that those with higher measures of security and motivation were also found to be less likely to experience drinking problems. This makes sense when we view the use of drink, drugs or other substances as a way for people to emotionally soothe themselves.
In my experience the continued stress of wondering where the next pay check is coming from can prompt immense worry and anxiety. This worry and anxiety is then buffered and softened by getting wasted (well at least that’s the idea). I’m sure we’ve all done it. In my mind, it’s no surprise that musicians turn to drink or other ways to emotionally regulate when feeling overwhelmed. Of course, this is made far more difficult due to the environment of free booze, hedonism and rebellious expectations, especially in the non-classical field.
The first step is to try and find ways to help us to feel less emotionally overwhelmed without using ‘stuff’. Any strategy that helps us to feel more grounded or less anxious is helpful, I’ll write more about these resources in future blogs but if you need some pointers there are loads of ideas in the Tonic Fanzines. The bigger picture needs a shift at the macro level surrounding the value of music and musicians. The digital world has made it even harder with profits going to the bigger players rather than the musicians themselves. This needs changing!
If you are a musician and struggling, get in touch with Tonic Rider or some of the other charities in the area of musicians mental health.
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.