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Mental health of musicians after the pandemic and beyond

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Musician and neurologist Dr Joe Barnby is studying how the pandemic has affected the mental health of music makers. Here’s what he found…

by Jessica Letkemann Spotify for Artists

This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied upon for, health advice. You should consult your own counselors and/or mental health professionals before making any personal decisions.

Making music has always been an intense career, often filled with uncertainties – from money to time – that can stress you out. On top of that, the effects of the ongoing pandemic have thrown a wrench in the lives of many artists that continues to be felt. Musician and mental health neuroscientist Dr. Joe Barnby returned with Spotify for Artists to share what he observed about how Covid has added to the profession’s unique stresses.

“Data released during the pandemic has highlighted who is most vulnerable to depression and anxiety,” says Barnby. “The only thing that stands out about musicians compared to other professions is that they [often] don’t have that security of financial stability…and that unfortunately means that when something like Covid happens where there’s a huge change in the way we have to adapt to live, it can be very difficult to continue being a musician in these circumstances .”

Nearly two-thirds of respondents to the MusiCares 2021 “Wellness in Music” survey felt financial stress every day. Meanwhile, more than a quarter reported moderate to severe depression.

“No sort of economic parachute for people with inconsistent incomes makes the stress all the more exaggerated and magnified. Musicians feel like they can’t really afford to exist doing what we love to do, like write music or produce music, in addition to trying to afford an apartment and trying to afford food.

Isolation is a major risk factor for musicians that has multiplied when lockdowns and restrictions have disrupted the social and support networks that are essential for good mental health. Although that has eased this year, Barnby found that “we still weren’t able to talk to people and interact with people in the same way. We didn’t have that social spontaneity that we were used to. To combat this, he says, it’s important “to have people around you who you can count on to be there to talk to you and to be there with you emotionally.”

Your need for a community of like-minded fellow musicians is also essential, as other stresses have piled up. “Having a forum where you can discuss it among yourselves is so powerful,” says Barnby. “Talking about the issues you all face gives you the advantage of having group ideas. It’s not just you thinking about it for yourself.

In addition to having people to rely on, the other “normal things recommended for good mental health – good exercise, good nutrition and good sleep” also apply.

“We know the importance of sleep in regulating things like cognition, our emotions, and our ability to deal with stress during the day,” he says. “If you have a completely irregular sleep schedule, we know that predisposes people to poorer mental health and finding it much more difficult to deal with the stresses of normal life.

“There is new evidence about the relationship between the gut and the brain, and how the things we eat affect our psychology. Our social environments can encourage poorer or better food. If you constantly have a tight schedule, you don’t have time to prepare really nutritious foods. We know that eating foods that don’t support a healthy gut microbiota will predispose you to poorer mental health.

“Art and culture are so important to a healthy and functioning society,” says Barnby. And he feels it underscores the need for “mental health for struggling musicians who might otherwise contribute massively to society.”