If you’re a working musician, chances are good you’re anxious or depressed.
Statistics published by Record Union show 73 percent of surveyed musicians reported experiencing negative emotions such as stress, anxiety and/or depression because of, not in spite of, their art. A 2018 study from the Music Industry Research Association shows nearly 12 percent of musicians have suicidal thoughts.
This is four times that of the general population.
These statistics, sadly, predate the pandemic, which robbed many artists of opportunities, income and purpose.
As the pandemic rages on, with new variants scrambling musicians’ hopes for a return to the stage, mental health is a cause that is more pertinent than ever.
That’s why, last year, I started Upbeat GNV.
Upbeat GNV is a crew of volunteers and musicians banding together not in pursuit of music but in supporting musicians in dealing with the stressors of their career.
I started playing music in Gainesville when I was 13 years old. I started the band The Savants of Soul and earned my current seat playing drums for Rehasher with Roger Lima from Less Than Jake, touring the U.S. and Europe along the way. Music has always been a deep part of my identity.
Gainesville has long been home to a vibrant music scene, powered by a constant influx of talented and ambitious artists who study at UF or who have grown up here, like myself and our co-founder, John Gray Shermyen.
When the first lockdown issues were ordered, I found myself unable to adjust to the new normal, lost, uninspired and isolated.
I put my drumsticks down and picked up the phone; A series of calls that would lay the foundation for our organization. Our vision quickly coalesced: We aim to harness the good nature of the Gainesville community to support musicians in facing both the anxiety of the pandemic and the more silent mental health pandemic.
I know what you’re thinking: I thought playing guitar was supposed to be fun. Music is supposed to heal. It is, and it can. But pursuing a career in music can have the opposite effect.
Musicians can suffer from self-esteem issues related to their performative and economic success. We can suffer through people not seeing our work as a real job, imposter syndrome and substance abuse problems. All this while dealing with a highly stressful and competitive working environment, where your job often intrinsically promotes substance abuse.
Yet, statistics from a 2017 University of Westminster study show that only 30 percent of musicians surveyed already have or would be very likely to seek treatment. Why aren’t musicians seeking help?
One reason: Professional musicians aren’t just expected to produce music on stage and in the studio, now they must constantly market themselves online and present an always-on image of success. You can’t afford to be in therapy if you’re trying to play famous to get famous.
Another, even darker reason I’ve heard from musicians: The art and feelings are based in their mental health struggles, and healing would cut them off from the source of their artistry.
We must destroy the stigma that surrounds the idea of seeking out help, and we must do something to lower costs.
Even if you can get a musician to say they need help, can they afford it? Many musicians who make their income from only music are forced to go underinsured or without insurance altogether. There’s no healthcare benefits package that comes with your Fender Stratocaster.
Since our inception in 2020, we’ve provided free therapy groups, free mental health education and the Upbeat GNV Mental Health Action Zine, a comprehensive guide to affordable mental health care in our area.
The work of groups like Alachua County Crisis Center, Meridian Behavioral Healthcare, Gainesville Peer Respite, UF HealthStreet and the Gainesville Community Counseling Center, to name a few, make free and low-cost therapy available to people of any background or insurance status.
However, despite our efforts, there is still much work to do in terms of combating the stigma of mental health in the music industry.
In the coming months, we hope to make ourselves more present at performances. We hope to drive forward the conversation about musicians’ mental health and show what options exist.
We are laying the groundwork now to begin offering musician-to-musician peer support programs, offering mental health education courses and individualized support for musicians seeking out treatment options.
In our groups offered over the past year, we watched musicians realize peers often struggled with the same thoughts and feelings. This is the spirit we ultimately hope to foster in our community through our work.
Though the hard truth is that the vast majority of musicians struggle with their mental health and artistry, here’s the upshot: None of us is alone.
Alexander Klausner is the director of Upbeat GNV and can be reached at email@example.com.