Mental Health and Gender
You may know that men in the general population are between 3-4 times more likely to die through suicide, than women in the general population (men= 18.9; women=5.2 per 100,000). But what you may not know, is that those already alarmingly high suicide stats are even higher for male musicians. Data released by the Office for National Statistics in 2017 (using data from 2011-2015) found that male musicians in the UK are 2.52 times more likely to die by suicide than the general male population. This means that male musicians are 9.17 times more likely to die by suicide than women in the general population (47.6 per 100,000 compared to 5.2 per 100,000).
Early death in musicians extends beyond suicide. A retrospective study into popular musicians’ mortality rates by Kenny (Chapter 11’s author) and Asher found that, ‘In the period 2 to 25 years post fame, this sample of popular musicians experiences two to three times the risk of mortality when compared with the general population’. Causes of death varied in different genres but was ‘strongly associated with substance abuse, risk-taking, and the experience of childhood adversity’ (see figure 1, above).
Whilst men die by suicide more frequently, they seem to report mental health difficulties less frequently to women. The NHS website says that there is an idea emerging that men are under pressure to be the perfect modern man – having a successful career, being a provider, being a good father, looking good, and conforming to masculine stereotypes. They quote research by the Priory found that 40% of men would not consider discussing their mental health until it reached a point where they were thinking about suicide or self-harm.
Some stressors disproportionately affect women, such as experiences of sexual violence, physical and sexual abuse, poverty, working in caring roles (which can increase stress and isolation. A thoroughly investigation into the stressors facing men and women in the music business is outside of the scope of this chapter.
One study wrote that, whereas men tend to externalise difficult feelings through ‘aggressive, impulsive, coercive and noncompliant behavior’ and reported higher diagnoses of substance abuse and anti-social disorders, women tended to internalise emotions – resulting in higher rates of anxiety, eating disorders and depression.
Mental Health and Race
Returning to the general population for a moment, if you identify as Black, Asian or minority ethnic you are more likely to face additional stressors through socioeconomic inequalities like poorer housing conditions, poorer education outcomes, increased risk of poverty and higher unemployment rates. Sometimes people of colour experience stigma within their communities that discourages them from seeking support for mental health issues. And, sadly, there are disparities in the quality of mental health care provision, such as a greater risk ‘of being detained under the Mental Health Act 1983 and the increased use of restrictive interventions (e.g. rapid tranquilisation, long acting antipsychotics and community treatment orders). Inequality may also exist where patients are not involved in treatment decisions, cultural or religious factors are not considered or discussed, or accessible information is not provided to enable full consent to medication.’There is still much work to be done in improving cultural competence in mental health fields.
In terms of stressors, specific challenges face particular minority groups, such as colourism or light privilege (discrimination and status based on skin tone). Natasha Hendry (musician and research psychologist) spoke of the conflict and guilt she felt when she realised she was benefitting from light privilege. ‘Being mixed race is more palatable in the industry. I’m aware that I will get jobs over my fellow black sisters, even when they are more talented. I’m not ashamed to say, ‘you wipe the floor with me with your singing, you should be doing this’ . You’re watching this stuff play out and you want to get ahead and you don’t want to lose work but at the same time, you’re seeing things that aren’t quite right.’
Some people from a dual, mixed or bi-racial heritage have difficulties integrating a clear sense of authentic identity. In their 2014 book ‘Mixed Expressions’ (a report for the National Children’s Bureau), Morley and Street state that a commonly cited difficulty for bi-racial children is that they might feel, ‘too white to be black, and too black to be white’.
In the music business, people of colour may face specific stressors that white colleagues do not, such as cultural stereotyping. In 2021 a report by Black Lives in Music disclosed that:
- ‘Three in five (63%) Black music creators have experienced direct/indirect racism in the music industry, and more (71%) have experienced racial microaggressions
- 35% of all Black music creators have felt the need to change their appearance because of their race/ethnicity, rising to 43% of Black women
- 73% of Black music professionals have experienced direct/indirect racism in the music industry, and more (80%) have experienced racial microaggressions’
Many respondents to that survey felt that their mental health had worsened since joining the music business, and also that there were barriers to job progression. Jamal Chalabi explains, ‘it’s made me hit a few ceilings – which are always a bit of a mystery’. Writer and musician Stephanie Philips (Big Joanie) says there is an additional pressure to excel for Black artists, ‘you can’t necessarily explain it or clarify it, but it does feel like as an all-Black punk band that we have to be ten times better, not just two times or three times better’.
On the music business side, a report by UK Music found that people of colour were underrepresented in senior positions:
- ‘People who identified as Black or Black British represented 12.6% of the workforce at Entry Level but lowers to 6.4% at Senior Level.
- People who identified as Asian or Asian British made up 6.8% of the workforce at Entry Level – dropping to 4% at Senior Level.
- People who identified as Mixed represented 8.1% at Entry Level, falling to 5.3% at Senior Level.
- Those who identified as White accounted for 65.4% at Entry Level and 80.1% at Senior Level.’
Stephanie Philips advises that in order for the music business to reduce discrimination, it music listen closely to the experiences of people of colour, ‘Acknowledging the reality of racism, discrimination and the exploitation of black artists is really important. It does feel like things are slowing moving forward, but there needs to be a deeper conversation about how we can actively help black artists who are struggling. They don’t have as much money, or power, or say in things as a lot of white artists’.
Recently, there has been a rise in anti-Semitic hate crimes. When conflict in Palestine and Israel increases, antisemitism increases alongside it. There also seems a correlation between the increasing popularity of conspiracy theories and a rise in antisemitism.
Mental Health and being LGBTIQ+
If you are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, intersex or queer/questioning (LGBTIQ+) you may also have an increased risk of mental ill-health. Research by Stonewall found that over half of the survey’s participants had experienced depression within the previous year and 41% of non-binary people had intentionally harmed themselves within the previous year. LGBTIQ+ people may experience social isolation, rejection, homophobia, biphobia or transphobia, discrimination, or they may grapple with issues including identity, internalised shame and difficulties relating to self-disclosure of their sexuality (more commonly known as ‘coming out’).
There aren’t currently statistics related to mental health, the music business and being LGBTQI (or if they are – they’re very well hidden), but a sample of interviewees I spoke with described casual homophobia and transphobia on the road. Stephanie Thompson explains, ‘there’s this whole, for want of a better phrase, ‘It’s an industry that, in my experience, is absolutely riddled with [toxic masculinity]. It’s in the way they speak about women or people who are gay or bi or trans. But, if you take offence to it, you’re not ‘cool’ so often, you just put up with it.’
1) Suicide figures can take several years to compile. At the time of writing Samaritans list the UK suicides rates for 2020 as 15.3 per 100,000 for men, and 4.9 per 100,000 in the general population.
2) The numbers of female musicians who died through suicide was 2 during the period studied. The SMR (standard mortality ratio) was not calculated for deaths numbering less than 10. At the time of writing, the Office for National Statistics has not yet released more recent figures for suicide by occupation.
3) Kenny, D. and Asher, A., 2016. Life Expectancy and Cause of Death in Popular Musicians: Is the Popular Musician Lifestyle the Road to Ruin?. Medical Problems of Performing Artists, 31(1), pp.37-44.
4) Anon, The pressure to be the ‘perfect man.’ NHS choices. Available at: https://myhealth.london.nhs.uk/mental-health/the-perfect-man [Accessed January 17, 2022].
5) However, it is worth noting that reports have indicated that there remains discrepancies in job opportunities and pay. AFEM reported that within the electronic music business, despite having higher levels of education and having a 50/50 gender split at senior management level, men dominate roles in the executive category. Elsewhere, there was a mean average gender pay gap of 28.2% across major labels Universal Music UK, Sony Music UK and Warner Music UK.
6) Anon, 2021. Women and mental health. Mental Health Foundation. Available at: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/w/women-and-mental-health [Accessed January 12, 2022].
7) Eaton, N.R. et al., 2012. An invariant dimensional liability model of gender differences in mental disorder prevalence: Evidence from a national sample. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 121(1), pp.282–288.
8) Koodun, S. et al., 2021. Racial and ethnic disparities in mental health care. The Pharmaceutical Journal. Available at: https://pharmaceutical-journal.com/article/research/racial-and-ethnic-disparities-in-mental-health-care [Accessed January 16, 2022].
9) By the time this book hits the shelves, Natasha Hendry’s research on ‘Race, Music Education & the Music Industry’ should also be available. It explores the psychological impact of racial inequality within the music education system.
10) Tamsin Embleton interview with Natasha Hendry, 6th September, 2021
11) Morley, D. and Street, C., 2014. Mixed Experiences. National Children’s Bureau.
12) Anon, 2021. BLiM report ‘Being Black in the UK Music Industry’. Black Lives in Music. Available at: https://blim.org.uk/report/ [Accessed January 6, 2022].
13) Tamsin Embleton interview with Jamal Chalabi, 1st October 2020.
14) Tamsin Embleton interview with Stephanie Philips, 16th June, 2021
15) Advocacy organisations like the Black Music Action Coalition and Black Lives in Music are examining inequality and racism in the music business. Some recent initiatives in the industry such as Sony Music’s collaboration with Mind, and race equality think tank the Runnymead Trust. ‘Young People and Racial Trauma’ will investigate the best interventions for young people affected by racism.
16) Anon, 2021. UK Music Highlights Need for more Black and Ethnically Diverse Employees in Top Music Jobs. UK Music. Available at: https://www.ukmusic.org/news/uk-music-highlights-need-for-more-black-and-ethnically-diverse-employees-in-top-music-jobs/ [Accessed January 6, 2022].
17) Tamsin Embleton interview with Stephanie Philips, 16th June, 2021
18) Stephens, H.S., 2021. The UK has seen an increase in Anti-Semitic hate crime. EachOther. Available at: https://eachother.org.uk/the-uk-has-seen-an-increase-in-anti-semitic-hate-crime/ [Accessed January 16, 2022].
19) Quinn, B., 2021. Far-right covid conspiracy theories fuelling antisemitism, warn UK experts. The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/oct/12/far-right-covid-conspiracy-theories-fuelling-antisemitism-warn-uk-experts [Accessed January 16, 2022].
20) Stonewall, 2018. LGBT in Britain: Health Report. [online] Stonewall. Available at: <https://www.stonewall.org.uk/lgbt-britain-health> [Accessed 4 June 2021]
21) In terms of other minority groups, you can read about disability and mental health in Chapter 2, and experiences of sexism, racism and homophobia on the road can be found in Chapter 5.
22) Tamsin Embleton interview with Stephanie Thompson, 5th October 2020