Mental Health in the Music Industry

By: Michael Kevin |

Suicide rates among musicians have been rising at a notable rate for the past few years, with the deaths of artists such as Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington, Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell, rapper Lil Peep, and DJ Avicii breaking the news outlets for the past few years. Even the notoriously harsh environment of the Korean music industry takes its toll for the past couple of years, from SHINee’s Jonghyun who passed away at the end of 2017 to f(x)’s Sulli and Kara’s Goo Hara, who both passed away earlier this year. A number of factors play a significant role on these artists’ turbulent mental health, leading to suicide; however, these deaths cannot be precisely concluded since some of the behaviors allegedly causing their declining mental health are just merely rumors and speculations, although the speculations and rumours may eventually be accurate. These factors range from the harsh demands from the music industry that musicians are unable to fulfill, underwhelmingly lacking amount of appreciation for their talents, an unhealthy lifestyle involving drug usage and alcohol consumption, and in a few cases around the Korean music industry, extreme verbal abuse from fans in forms of bullying and even death threats, and major agencies’ inability to protect their artists from abuse and also at the same their inability to give safe and guaranteed privacy to these musical idols.

The matter regarding mental health among musicians proved to be a serious matter. A study conducted by Record Union, a Sweden-based digital distribution platform, found out that approximately around 73 percent of independent musicians, especially at the age between 18 to 25 years old, have been suffering from various mental illnesses including anxiety and depression; this is a survey of 1,500 musicians between March 21 and April 2 earlier this year, as quoted by Billboard and Consequence of Sound. The numbers do not stop there, as 33 percent of those surveyed had panic attacks, while 57 percent of them said that they are worried about their well-being and mental health as well and 41 percent of them said that they are worried about those issues at least multiple times a day. And sadly, only 39 percent of the group have mentioned that they had been seeking treatments for their mental health, and 51 percent from the same group of people have mentioned that they received medications, especially people who had alcohol and drug-related issues.

In regards to the Korean music industry, the environment on the industry itself has been notorious for its harsh work ethics, unrealistically high demands from both the fans and the agency alike, and not to mention the brutal anonymous Korean social media users who have virtually abused their idols with various reasons, mainly not conforming with the Korean idols’ standards and not being able to fulfill fans’ demands and expectations that mostly expect nothing less than perfection from their idols. As the result of these factors, Korean netizens (also rather known as K-Netz) brutally attacked their idols, from their physical appearances to their personal lives with harsh comments and threats anonymously through social media. The agencies, who are responsible for these idols’ management, have been generally unresponsive when it comes to handling this kind of issues also, creating a bad look for the industry regarding its handling of their assets’ mental health.

A few attempts have been made to become open regarding musicians’ mental health awareness to the fans, with a lot of artists starting to advocate and opening up about their mental health. Examples include artists such as Halsey, Khalid, Logic and other artists talking about their mental health struggles and its prevention through a campaign called “I’m Listening” back in September of 2017. Passion Pit frontman Michael Angelakos created an organization called “The WishArt Group”, as quoted by output.com, which functions to “create and house nonprofit and for-profit services and programs and build programs for musicians to develop solutions for communities in need, such as donating intellectual property and revenue streams to institutions”. Angelakos’ nonprofit organization provided these kinds of assistance with the hopes of helping musicians to speak up as well as encouraging other musicians through this organization, indirectly preventing mental health issues caused by the cruel demands of the music industry. Besides advocating for mental health awareness, rapper Logic, alongside singer Khalid and also Alessia Cara, released a song related to suicide prevention, titled “1-800-273-8255”, in which the title was inspired from the hotline number of United States’ National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The song was a success commercially and is critically acclaimed among the likes of music critics and fans. The success of the song also positively affected the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, with an approximate increase of 50 percent in calls received after the song was released, according to Lifeline’s Director of Communications, Frances Gonzalez. As for the Korean music industry, a few artists have spoken up about mental health and also suicide awareness since the news of Jonghyun’s suicide back in 2017 broke out, although both of the topics are considered to be taboo among Korean people. The “Shining Road” concert series, hosted by veteran singer and actor Lee Dong Wook, was created back in 2018 and was held from April 23 to May 7 at that year, which was joined some of the prominent Korean singers and actors, including Lee Seung Chul, Girls’ Generation’s Sooyoung, Kangta, singer-songwriter Yoon Jong Shin, and several other artists from the industry. The concert series, that was going to begin in the South Korea’s capital of Seoul, was held with the hopes to raise awareness regarding suicide prevention, which eventually at the time became one of the latest instances of South Korean entertainers partaking in the topics of psychological disorders and treatment, which became the country’s talking point. The “Shining Road” concert series eventually paved a way for artists in the Korean music industry to open up regarding mental health and suicide prevention until now.

To conclude this article, it can be said that musicians are also humans like us, who has struggles although we cannot see them behind all the success and fame they received as musical artists. The harsh environment of the music industry can be really toxic for the musicians and it can affect their mental health in a negative way, and the lack of support from the label or even the fans might affect their mental health even worse. One of the ways to prevent this kind of issue from happening is to give these musicians an appreciation. The appreciation can be done in different ways, from buying their music materials or attending their concerts or gigs might be enough to help them. And if you may have relatives or friends who are struggling with mental health, or it might be even yourself who are struggling with mental health, try to seek professional help or call your local suicide prevention hotline.

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