Music, Tours, Wellbeing and Mental Health

Friday, 4 August 2017

On 20th July 2017, Chester Bennington, Frontman of the band, Linkin Park, died after taking his own life. The singer had struggled with substance misuse and poor mental health for years, and had experienced abuse as a child. Despite this, Bennington’s death came as a surprise for many and once again the spotlight was back on mental health in the music industry.

For many of us with experience of poor mental health, listening to and making music has had an undeniably positive effect on our recoveries. Whether that is listening to songs which help us understand our emotions or creating our own music as an outlet or distraction from them. This is true for many of our favourite musicians, and certainly true of the music Bennington wrote.

In the last year, a number of high profile musicians have spoken out about mental health. One of the most high profile cases in the UK was Years and Years’ Olly Alexander. He has spoken candidly about his struggles with anxiety and depression as well as his struggles of eating disorders and homophobic bullying. Like many others, he has highlighted how the pressures of ‘fame’ and success can exacerbate and trigger depression and anxiety. Stormzy, probably 2016’s breakthrough artist, has also spoke openly about struggles with depression and discussed it in his debut album, Gang signs and Prayer.

2017 could be considered a year where mental health has become the big topic in the music industry. But with awareness at an all-time high, the high profile suicides of Chester Bennington and Chris Cornell, within months of each other, asks the question, is there something specific linking the music industry and poor mental health and suicide?

Suicide has long been the cause of some of our favourite musicians’ deaths. Nick Drake, Ian Curtis and Kurt Cobain ended their lives in the 70s, 80s and 90s respectively. Countless others have been lost to substance abuse, often linked to poor mental health.

Both musicians that had ‘made it’ and those still trying to ‘live the dream’ will tell you that the pressures of fame and as well as the lifestyle of touring can have an adverse effect on their mental health. And it is not just the musicians. A friend who is a guitar tech recently told me that after long tours, he can often feel as if he is a different person when he returns home and struggles to adjust back to ‘normal’ life.

The reality is that 1 in 4 of us will go through a period of poor mental health in our life, and suicide remains the biggest killer of men under 50. What the recent deaths of Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington show is that no matter how rich, or successful someone might be, they are not immune from the harm of poor mental health.

With that said, we can offer some tips to musicians and others in the industry to try and mitigate the effects and maintain wellbeing, especially while on tour:

  • Sleep is vitally important to your wellbeing. While rocking and rolling all night and partying every day is the image tours garner in our heads, catching sleep not only keeps your hormones in check, its allows your body and mind to rest and can stop you burning out.
  • Try to avoid surviving on fast food and venue meals. They might be cheap, quick and sometimes free, but often they are full of sugar and not very nutritious. They might give you the energy to get up and perform but as the tour wears on, they can adversely affect your mental wellbeing. The same goes for alcohol. It may make you feel confident, or help you relax after a show but in the long term, the effects can contribute to tiredness, feelings of depression and anxiety.
  • Days off might be used for resting and travelling, but try and find time to get outside and change your environment. Visit a park or a museum or maybe a gym and get some exercise.
  • Try to make time for calls to friends and family back home. It will help tackle feelings of isolation.
  • Speak to your bandmates. Chances are, if you are feeling the effects of the tour, they will be to. Opening a dialogue and being open can help you support each other.

There are a number of services you can access that can also help whether you are on tour or not when it comes to your mental health.

  • Speak to your GP. They can refer you to services and prescribe medication that can help.
  • You can always contact your local Mind. Mind has 140 local Mind’s, each offering a variety of services. You can find your local Mind on www.mind.org.uk
  • Help Musicians UK is a charity set up especially for musicians. They can give you advice and help on Substance misuse, financial hardship as well as mental health. Their website can be find on https://www.helpmusicians.org.uk/
  • Call Samaritans on 116 123.

Sam Bogg and Daniel Warren-Holland
Solent Mind Portsmouth Support and Recovery Service