The previous blogs have looked at how mental health is impacted by the
occupational environment from the perspective of financial precarity, substance use and job
satisfaction. One of the biggest studies in this area was conducted in Norway using
1607 Norwegian professional musicians and investigated the prevalence of anxiety and
The musicians were drawn from rock, pop, jazz, traditional, classical and art music genres. The study compared the musicians with the general workforce in Norway and measured anxiety, depression and psychological distress, socio-demographic characteristics and lifestyle within the two occupational groups. One key finding was the dominance of psychological distress, reported in 18% of the musicians, compared to 8% of the normal workforce. That’s a 10% increase in 1607 people! That’s a lot! Yes, we know (I hear you say).
The musicians also reported symptoms of anxiety and depression as being highly prevalent with soloists and lead performers experiencing the highest distress overall. I spoke about this in my previous blogs about MPA (music performance anxiety) and the concept of ‘going it alone’. This certainly rings true for me on a personal level where I felt much more anxiety when doing my solo thing in comparison to drumming or DJ-ing.
The study also highlighted the mental health distress levels of the popular musicians being greater than the classical genre in general, although the jazz sub-genre anomalously reported less distress than the classical musicians. This higher stress outside of the classical genre got me thinking on a more macro level. I wonder what it is, if true, that prompts non-classical musicians to feel more stress? I’ll come back to this.
Following on from this, this Danish study was later developed by using the same data set to explore comparisons in the psychosocial environment (where psychology and sociology meet). The new study showed a significant difference between the two groups in all seven psychosocial variables of control, demands, support, effort-reward-salary, effort-reward-acknowledgment, work-family conflict and job motivation (all of these variables are linked to work, relationships and how we feel about these). The musical genres were also re-defined and included pop, rock, jazz, classical, contemporary, folk, show music and music for children. Blues, country, metal, electronic, hip-hop, and dance orchestra were all placed in the other category. Within the wide genres, the contemporary performers reported less reward in terms of salary and increased levels of work–family conflict, alongside lower levels of job motivation. It was assumed that the contemporary musicians reported the highest levels of job demands due to the increased technical proficiency needed for their musical performance. The soloists and front figures also felt less support in general, with those in the other category reporting considerably more demands in their work (see my previous blog on MPA and going it alone).
In general, the musicians reported more control over their work compared to the general workforce, although the classical musicians experienced lower levels of control in their nuanced environment. This complex find is probably due to this demographic having less freedom in terms of what they play. Again, something to think about, does creativity and performing our own music increase wellbeing? (I wrote about this when exploring how musicking can be helpful to mental health previously).
Additionally, all of the musicians in general reported reduced levels of support (and family conflict) compared to the non musicking workforce, with the lowest being reported by soloists and front figures across all genres, mirroring other research.
In general, the study correlates with other research highlighting the relationships between social support and stress reduction while the impact of higher technical demands, causes an increase in stress.
So, in a nutshell, we feel more stressed if the music is more difficult and we are doing it on our own. And of course, we as musicians need more support (perhaps even more so if we are non-classical, according the first study). The answer? It’s complex but the Peer Support Groups can help.
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.