Study: Musicians More Likely to Suffer Mental Health Problems

Everyone has heard of the “troubled musician” stereotype before. A tortured soul who suffers from depression and turns to alcohol and drugs to both self-medicate and fuel their creativity. That stereotype might not be too far off the mark, however, according to a new study from Norway. According to Digital Music News, the study by psychiatrist Jonas Vaag from North Trøndelag Hospital Trust found that “musicians in [Norway] are three times more likely to face deteriorating mental health and undergo psychotherapy than standard Norwegian citizens. They’re also 50% more likely to use psychotropic meditation like antidepressants, antipsychotics, and anxiolytics”.

Vaag conducted the survey because of a lack of studies examining musicians’ medical problems. This new study, a joint project between the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Nord University, and Nord-Trøndelag University College, reaches similar conclusions to two previous studies. The abstract states:

“Research indicates that there is a higher degree of mental health problems, family/work conflicts and sleep-related problems among workers in creative occupations than in other professions.

“Research also reveals that musicians have to deal with a relatively high degree of occupational stress”.

Vaag interviewed twelve anonymous, award-winning musicians for his research. The musicians consisted of five woman and seven men who play pop, jazz, classical, rock, folk, and metal. They have all released albums and made most of their living by working as freelance musicians. Interviews were two hours long and conducted over six months from October 2011 to March 2012.

The interviews asked strategic questions to fit the specific criteria. Questions about the musicians’ background and experience began the interviews before shifting into inquiries about work demands, challenges, and stressors in order to find out about the musicians’ daily lives. The next part of the interview focused on job resources, personal resources, and preventative factors. The research team wanted to know what factors were important to the musicians in overcoming challenges. The final section of the interviews narrowed in on the musicians’ health and use of healthcare throughout their careers.

Digital Music News sums up what Vaag and his team found: “artists had a difficult time distinguishing their work from their normal, everyday lives…Musicians often told the research team that it made little sense to describe work and leisure as two different entities”.

Musicians faced three specific demands.

  1. Unpredictable future and lack of given structure because of:
  • Unstable economy
  • Lack of foresight

2. Family/Work conflicts

3. External pressure from:

  • Identity pressure

To confront these demands, Vaag and his researchers found a couple of resources to help musicians overcome these challenges.

  1. Support:
  • Family support
  • Support from band and/or professional network

2. Personal resources:

  • Dedication to music
  • Entrepreneurial skills
  • Flexibility and proactivity
  • Internal locus of control and resilience
  • Fostering and maintaining core values

The results of Vaag’s study are fascinating and if you want to read more in-depth, the Digital Music Times article goes into a lot of detail.

One thought on “Study: Musicians More Likely to Suffer Mental Health Problems

  • October 19, 2016 at 10:22 am

    I would bet this could be expanded to creatives in general


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