How the music industry came out of the closet on mental health

Music stars are helping move the conversation forward by publicly dealing with their demons and coming clean about depression, anxiety and addiction

If you stick around long enough, you can witness some wonderful changes in how we humans operate and deal with life. A couple of years ago, for example, you rarely came across people talking about mental health or mental illness. Now and again it would happen, but it was the exception rather than the norm.

It’s a different matter today. Strong, resilient, remarkable characters talk openly and candidly about their mental-health problems and how they have dealt with them. Their honesty encourages others to talk because these are often people you wouldn’t imagine having to deal with the black dog.

This knock-on effect is huge when it comes to those viewed as role models. Hearing sportspeople and athletes in particular discuss how their mental health has suffered because of stress, strain and pressure is something cited as persuading many others to seek help.

Like sports, music is an area where talking about mental health has become more common than used to be the case. From Coldplay’s Chris Martin, Rita Ora and Biffy Clyro’s Simon Neil to The Blizzards’ Niall Breslin and Years & Years’ Olly Alexander, musicians don’t hesitate to speak about the days when they struggle to deal with the darkness.


Over the past few months, Vice's Noisey publication has been running a fascinating series about mental health and the music business in association with Help Musicians UK.

Detrimental effect

The more pieces you read, the more you realise just how the workings of an occasionally dysfunctional, often-ruthless and always-demanding business, supposedly about art and culture, can have a detrimental effect on the mental well-being of those in the limelight as well as behind the scenes.

With musicians, it is often the demands and pressures brought on by record labels, abnormal expectations and relentless touring cycles which bring mental health issues to the fore. Those who may already be coping to an extent with health problems find everything changes when the industry steps in and their career goes to the next level.

But it’s not just those onstage who find that the music business is often the worst place to be when these problems appear or are amplified. There is no escaping the fact that demanding jobs, challenging work conditions and a failure by employers to understand what people are going through don’t help.

Of course, this applies to many industry sectors, but the music industry seems to be particularly ahead of the curve when it comes to promoting and occasionally even celebrating unhealthy conditions.

Alcohol industry

For many, the only way to deal with overwork and pressure is through self-medication. That the music industry is one of the very few work spaces which operates with alcohol practically as part of the furniture and fittings doesn’t make things any better. Drink is seen as the answer for keeping up and getting ahead, but it doesn’t solve any of the underlying pressures a person might be dealing with.

The question now is, what comes next? It is fantastic to see musicians joining the ranks of those talking about mental- health problems, but there is a pressing need for more awareness throughout the industry about what causes these problems, and the supports required to help.

There’s also an onus on labels, promoters and the other employers to see what’s going on and pay more than lip service to the problem. Otherwise, you’re just going to end up with a situation where people take the big step to talk out, but absolutely nothing is done about it.