Who will save your soul ?
The past 18 months have been a challenge for many in Canada and worldwide. Why? For one, there is the virus-that-cannot-be-named. The other, well, it has been lurking in the shadows for as long as one can remember. For artists, it has been floating around forever. But lately, artists have been talking more and more openly about mental illness.
Sure, reading through song lyrics can make you realize some artists are not always in the Mr. Happy Go Lucky mood. But lately, these issues have found an authentic voice, singers, actors, and everyone across the board being more open and vocal about their problems and emotional challenges. It has been a bumpy ride for the music industry and performing arts, as venues were closed for most of the last two years, allowing artists to find their footing again.
It is a known fact that the music industry holds all the ingredients for a recipe for mental illness. For many artists, constant travel and financial insecurities are part of their everyday life. However, when touring is the primary revenue (income), things can lead to anxiety and depression in a hurry.
If you think the situation is bad, think again. According to a survey¹ commissioned in 2016 by Help Musicians UK, 71 % out of the 2,200 musicians surveyed said they suffered different anxiety levels, and a staggering 69 % mentioned depression. What’s more, 57 percent of those with mental illness responded to never receiving treatment or said it was difficult to get help. Another survey², this time commissioned by the Record Union (a Swedish digital distribution platform), found that 73 % of independent musicians also suffered various mental illnesses. Things are not so different here in Canada: the East Coast Music Association also had alarming results to show: more than 20 % of the respondents answered having suicidal thoughts over the past months.
All these numbers and the precarity of the music industry motivated Menno Versteeg, frontman of the band Hollerado and head of indie label Royal Mountain records, to take matters into his own hands to help fellow artists. He set up a mental wellness found, providing every artist on the roster 1500 $ to spend on mental health or addiction recovery. When asked why he wanted to put up this fund, Versteeg pointed out that “those musicians aren’t afforded the same security as those working around them”.³
Others have followed through. R&B singer Oluwatobi Ajibolade (better known as TOBi) organized UNPACK Toronto, a series of discussions on mental illness in the creative community. The goal is to de-stigmatize mental health, especially in the music industry, by fostering an open dialogue about their struggles behind the scenes. Last November, CBC’s q music program devoted a week-long series called SOUND OF MIND MENTAL HEALTH & THE ARTS, which featured interviews with established artists like rapper Big Sean, Lizzo, Shawn Mendes, and comedian Ricky Gervais. Exploring the multitude of ways artists draw from and deal with mental illness.
Even if it is a dire situation, many positives have emerged amidst this turmoil. Last May, Canadian singer and Grammy Award winner Alanis Morrissette released Rest, a song she first performed at Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington tribute concert in 2017, supporting Mental Health Action Day. Josh Groban said that recording his most recent album, last year’s Harmony, isolated from the world, was therapeutic. Other artists set up virtual concerts from their homes and directly reached out to fans, helping them spread the music around.
There seems to be a new awareness about mental illness with artists and the general public. Of course, singers have a voice, and they often channel their inner demons through their songs. But organizations such as Bell Let’s Talk and the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Mental Health Week have helped people across the board to reach out and deal with these issues, whether you are a doctor, an athlete, or a health worker.