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Hands on for mental health in the music industry

As Mental Health Awareness Week begins, the music industry must step up to safeguard the mental health of its artists and touring crews, writes Dr Bunmi Aboaba

14 May 2018

Dr Bunmi Aboaba, the Sober Advantage

Being a practical, hands-on recovery coach, it feels so right to talk about proactive steps – hands-on, in-the-moment measures that can be taken to help artists who are vulnerable to mental health issues. It’s good to talk about improving mental health, but even better to walk it through with them.

There are more and more reports on the distressing number of casualties in the music industry regarding mental health problems – and the statistics aren’t getting any better.

Recent statistics show that mental health issues in the creative industries are considerably higher than that of the general public. Research has shown that people working in the music industry, including tour managers, artists and crew, are five times more likely to develop depression, and a staggering ten times more likely to commit suicide.

There are a multitude of factors that cause this, such as lack of sleep, long working hours for the crew, being thrust into the spotlight for the artist and gruelling non-stop tours and promotions.

Artists are set up for a different way of thinking to the rest of the population. What record labels try to do for their artists daily is to make them more extraordinary, more amazing and more elusive. This comes at a cost, as success and adulation from the public could potentially make the artist feel far from normal.

To compound this, artists are high-level creatives, and just like writers and comedians they seem to have less of a mental filter so that a large number of ideas come flooding in. These types are known to struggle with mental illness. Some studies have shown that those who are highly creative also run a higher risk of depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

With stress, anxiety and depression comes the increased chances of addiction to alcohol, drugs and sex to help try and alleviate these feelings. It’s a vicious circle, as substance misuse invariably leads to more anxiety, paranoia, hallucinations, mood swings and suicidal thoughts.

I am pleased to see that Music Support and MMF UK have produced a most welcome guide for music managers, who have found they needed support in helping the mental wellbeing of their artists. It includes signs of mental deterioration, symptoms and what can be done, as well as boundary setting, stress management, alcohol and addiction are also there.

Artists live in a hectic and fast-paced world, and their hectic lifestyles lend to feelings of instability

My mantra when it comes to wellbeing is, “Have a plan, get a life”. Some of us plan in great length what clothes we are going to wear for the day, what we are going to have for dinner, what car we want to buy and so forth, so why not plan out our mental health routine?

This would be a great strategy for music artists, vulnerable to mental health issues or not. It becomes routine if implemented daily.

There are various techniques and strategies I encourage individuals from the music and entertainment industry to adopt and integrate. Techniques that alleviate stress and panic attacks are super effective and quick.

Grounding, centring and process focus strategies can also be very useful for helping the artist to stay in the present moment.

Artists live in a hectic and fast-paced world, and their hectic lifestyles lend to feelings of instability. Once again there are tools that can be employed to bring their energy systems up to a point that can match their lifestyle and support their physical and mental wellbeing.

I strongly encourage labels, managers and others working in the industry to take supporting their artists’ wellbeing to the next level. Having tailored programmes in place for artists who are at low, medium and elevated risk could be a solution.

Having a wellbeing coach would, in my opinion, also prove beneficial, as tour managers cannot be all things and in all places. The coaches can then oversee the artist, the crew and even the tour manger themselves. Everyone being well will have positive effects on the tour.

Our musical performers are valuable to our culture. As the environment which they live and work does not contribute to a life of abstinence, extra effort must be made towards emotional and mental fitness and away from alcohol and drug abuse. In this way, we can save lives and preserve the great talent and creativity they provide to our culture and society.


Bunmi Aboaba is the CEO and founder of the Sober Advantage, an organisation providing hands-on, bespoke wellbeing and recovery coaching services to the music and creative industries, especially those struggling with alcohol and drug addiction. Her approach adopts a variety of holistic therapies, while taking into account nutrition, personality profile and more, and is tailored to each artist and their needs and schedules.