Following a growing trend of suicides amongst male musicians, serious questions have to be asked as to why this has occurred, what can be learnt from it and what can be done in the future to help people in difficulty receive the right support.
Eighteen months ago, a trend started which, since then, has ripped a hole in the fabric of the music industry. On 18 May 2017, legendary Soundgarden lead singer Chris Cornell was discovered dead, having hung himself just hours after performing in Detroit. Since then, an awful pattern of male suicides in artists has followed, most recently with the death of rapper Mac Miller in September, aged just 26. As we approach the latter stages of “Movember”, the popular campaign in which thousands of men attempt to grow moustaches and contribute to Men’s Mental Health Awareness Month, it seems even more important to highlight the growing issues surrounding mental health amongst male artists.
“many believe there’s a crisis on our hands”
Over the past five years, there’s been an immense increase in awareness for mental health issues. The UK government recently announced further funding for the mental health sector, promising to help more people receive the right support and guidance. Despite this, mental health issues remain prevalent in today’s music industry, so much so that many believe there’s a crisis on our hands.
What seems even more shocking is that many of the artists that are now no longer with us, took steps to seek help and yet didn’t receive the sufficient amount of support. Scott Hutchison, lead singer of Scottish alternative-rock outfit Frightened Rabbit, had spoken out about the struggles he was facing in the immediate past and present before his body was found on 10 May earlier this year. Frightened Rabbit’s 2008 track ‘Floating in the Forth’ saw Hutchison declare “I think I’ll save suicide for another day.” Whilst this was just one of many tracks in which the late singer expressed his mental fragility, an interview just days before the 36-year-old died hinted at Hutchison’s state of mind.
“people working in the music industry may be up to three times more likely to experience depression than the general public”
The UK’s biggest health and welfare support organisation, Help Musicians, published a study in 2016, finding that 69% of its 2,211 participants had experienced depression, while 71% had panic attacks and/or high levels of anxiety. The study concluded with the statistic that people working in the music industry may be up to three times more likely to experience depression than the general public. These figures do raise eyebrows, especially when you try and imagine what the life of a musician is like.
The prospect of a career writing music and then touring the world in a private jet, playing to thousands of adoring fans and earning millions in the process, sounds immensely appealing. However, life on tour can be stressful and it’s hard to realise the extent to which an artist might be experiencing difficulties. The shock of EDM legend Avicii’s death, aged 28, on 20 April 2018, three weeks before Scott Hutchison’s body was also found, highlighted a darker side to life as a touring artist.
Journalist Felicity Martin summed up this issue in an article earlier this year, explaining why a lengthy touring schedule takes a severe toll on an artist’s physical and mental health. With constant travelling, sleeping patterns are extremely disrupted, whilst the lack of contact with friends and family alienates individuals from living a normal life. Add in the pressure of performing constantly to large crowds plus the regular supply of drugs, alcohol and anything else you might desire, and you have a recipe for disaster.
If you then add in the expectation that when you eventually go home, you have to try and slip into normality, then something is bound to go wrong. Tim Bergling, aka Avicii, died in Oman, two years after retiring from an exhausting touring schedule, having previously informed his management company that he would die if he didn’t take a break.
The deaths of Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington, emo-rapper Lil Peep, and Malcolm McCormick (aka Mac Miller) indicate crises with addiction, a trend that has plagued musicians for nearly a century. All three artists had previously expressed past issues with addiction and yet they slipped through the net again, failing to receive the correct support. Lil Peep was hailed as “the future of emo” by many before his death on 15 November 2017. With a cult-like following, the 21-year-old rapper’s drug addiction was caused by consistent mental health issues and his death sent shock waves across music as a whole.
The [Music Minds Matter] campaign aims to support people in the music industry with advice, listening, and medical and therapeutic support
Serious questions have been asked as to what can be done in order to prevent another casualty. In the wake of this spate of suicides, some solutions have emerged. The charity Help Musicians launched the Music Minds Matter campaign after Chester Bennington’s death in 2017. The campaign aims to support people in the music industry with advice, listening, and medical and therapeutic support. An influx of messages has been spread over the vast mediums of social media in the past 18 months, urging people to talk about any issues they might be experiencing.
The increase in activity surrounding mental health awareness is essential in trying to help artists experiencing troubles, but there’s clearly more that needs to be done. With constant strains on funding for charities, there’s only so much that organisations like Help Musician’s can do. There needs to be increased funding and targeted campaigns for both rising musicians and accomplished artists. The web of interactions between various musicians needs to start to include messages of support and concern over wellbeing. Acknowledging that you have an issue is one thing, talking about it and receiving the correct support is another. As time moves on, the memories of those artists who tragically took it upon themselves to end their own struggles will live on, hopefully acting as a reminder to take care of yourself and those around you.
If you are struggling with your mental health and need to talk, you can call Samaritans for free at any time on 116 123 or email them through email@example.com, or find your nearest branch online.
Call the Music Minds Matter service on 0808 802 8008 for advice, information and emotional support, or via musicmindsmatter.org.uk and helpmusicians.org.uk
Music Support’s helpline number is 0800 030 6789, or contact their website here.