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Mental Health Effects on Musicians

By Maddy Chemers

As the pandemic progressed, many people felt the mental health effects that go along with sitting at home all day, every day. One way the world worked together to keep daily routines as intact as possible was by switching to remote options and adapting using technology.

The entertainment industry is a great example of how even celebrities were making sure to stay at home but still attend events virtually. However, average people working in the entertainment industry do not all have the same luxury of relaxing at home, especially if being an artist is their main source of income.

For many amateur performers, live audiences not only provide revenue but are also a huge motivator for those performers to work on their craft. People also respond differently to performers on streaming platforms compared to in person, which is an added layer for musicians to adapt to. And, if artists do not have much knowledge about social media and other newer technology, they could get left behind as the world transitions to be more digital.

The American Federation of Musicians released a statement on their website empathizing with entertainers. The AFM says, “As gigs are canceled and stages go dark, it can feel hopeless. Don’t let the lights go out on you or your bandmates.”

As the pandemic progressed, the AFM posted updates for COVID-19 resources for musicians as well as venue and rehearsal spaces and theatre and pit musicians.

“Your union brother and sisters are here for you. The AFM is fighting to get members help with unemployment assistance, we’re working in D.C. to help protect working people, and we’re standing up to get musicians back performing safely. And most importantly, we want you to be healthy both physically and mentally. It’s okay to ask someone if they’re okay, and it’s okay to not be okay. Uncertainty can cause anxiety and depression to rise, but there is help. Reach out to your local or a friend. Check in on friends you haven’t seen or heard from,” the AFM posted.

Performers and nonperformers alike have gone through massive amounts of uncertainty due to the pandemic. And while many adaptations were made to keep the flow of daily life, not every aspect of change has been acknowledged. The closure of schools, in-person workplaces and events caused a plethora of scheduling and organizational issues, but the stress of living during a pandemic had insurmountable effects as well. According to the World Health Organization, COVID-19 increased anxiety and depression by 25% around the world in just the first year alone.

In addition to the everyday stressors that the pandemic brought up, performers also deal with the “struggling artist” trope that feeds into more mental instability. Due to the unique lifestyle many performers employ in order to make their living through their art, musicians suffer from higher stress levels and other mental setbacks under normal circumstances, let alone during a pandemic.

Record Union's initiative after the musician mental health report was published.

In 2019, a study by Record Union, a Swedish digital platform concluded 73% of independent artists face mental illness struggles and that number is closer to 80% of artists between the ages of 18 and 25. The study does not include follow-up information with more recent numbers since the COVID-19 outbreak.

“In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been many restrictions and closings put in place to try and reduce the curve, such as canceling live entertainment, closings restaurants, businesses and schools, social distancing, as well as the insistence of staying home. These changes have resulted in overwhelming feelings of anxiousness/anxiety, worry, separation, and despair for many,” the AFM wrote.

Luckily, there is a light at the end of the pandemic tunnel and a sense of normalcy may be approaching. For live performers, venues are opening back up, so it is just a matter of getting back on the horse and finding that rhythm once again. However, there has also been a slew of mask mandates both in Illinois and around the country which can make performing more difficult physically, or require special masks that are larger or include a “window” for performers’ mouths to be seen.

For those performers that continue to struggle to struggle with mental illness, especially COVID-19 induced, the AFM recommends limiting screen time and news intake, maintaining as much of a daily routine as possible, and staying active as strategies for reducing stress. It is also important to keep social ties and stay connected to friends and family.

If you or a loved one are in need of mental health assistance, here are a few resources:

Music Industry Therapist Collective


ASCAP Wellness Program

Music Support

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Courtesy of the American Federation of Musicians

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