New research: 2 in 3 musicians suffers from depression

New research: 2 in 3 musicians suffers from depression


norman lebrecht

November 01, 2016

Help Musicians UK has published the results of an extensive survey on musicians and mental health, said to be the largest of its kind undertaken anywhere in the world.

The data are fairly alarming. Some 71% of respondents admitted to anxiety and panic attacks and 65% reporting they had suffered from depression.

Out of 2,200 who responded, 768 said they worked in pop music, 689 in classical music, 676 in alternative, 649 in rock and 431 in electronica.


sibelius gallen-kalleia-drunk


  • Respect says:

    So that’s why I love Sibelius 4!

  • Olivia Badcoke says:

    Depression is like drowning when everyone around you is enjoying the swim. It takes a lot of effort to beat it, however natural solutions can be really helpful. For those having difficulties with depression, I highly recommend the system. Written by James Gordon, a major depression sufferer who struggled with his own depression for 3 decades, it teaches 7 natural steps that he implemented to heal himself and has helped thousands, including me.

    • John Borstlap says:

      It did not seem to help himself, if he struggled 3 decades with depression.

    • Una says:

      Thanks Olivia. Very good and practical of you to post this on here as many will find it, and it will be another avenue to pursue rather than do nothing or get ridiculed by most.

  • mbhaz says:

    This is meaningless unless put in context. What percentage of the general population suffers from anxiety or depression? How about the number for professional athletes, actors, teachers, tailors or chimney sweeps? I best that you’d find that in most industrialized countries that nearly half of the population claims to be depressed one time or another.

    • Jonathan Robinson says:

      Thanks to Slipped Disc for signposting this research.

      Mbhaz – please note the research did take into account the incidence of mental health amongst the general UK populace, using ONS figures from their most recent annual reports (spanning 2010-2013) as a benchmark. To be clear, the context is in the report.

      ONS found that the national average is ‘almost 1 in 5’ of the population (aged 16 yrs plus), as opposed to the Help Musicians UK survey, which found that the incidence of anxiety and depression amongst professional musicians was closer to 1 in 3.

      The report can be downloaded for free, here:

    • Dr. Judith Schlesinger says:

      MBHAZ, you’re exactly right. Not only can you not claim that musicians are “more” depressed than anyone else unless you give the same attention to that “anyone else,” but the measures of depression and anxiety in this study are simply the self-reports of people who think they had one, the other, or both.

      They are also self-identifying as musicians, which may or may not be true – we all know there’s a vast range of talent and commitment that would preclude lumping every responder in the same experiential basket.

      There’s also this throwaway line in the pilot: “working in music might indeed make musicians sick” that commits the popular error of confusing correlation with causality – that is, if two things occur together, one must have caused the other.

      But despite the overall unscientific design and concepts of this research, two facts are very clear: musicians do get into psychological difficulties, and the resources for helping them are limited. Both things do need careful consideration.

    • Una says:

      Apart from the actors – unless you’re a celebrity – the others earn quite a lot more than many musicians. Hardship is one contributing factor in all of this, and a high rate rejection and loneliness if you are a soloist and not a celebrity one are others. Many of those taking part in that HelpMusiciansUK survey are in fact musicians being helped financially by them to keep going. They weren’t dragged off the street, or can be compared to your Trump and Clinton poles. I am involved with this wonderful charity, and they are one of the best. The figures for depression all around the world is frightening. At least in this culture you can risk talking about it, but in others – like men don’t cry and suicide – it’s taboo and no help there to be had.

      • John Borstlap says:

        It is obvious that the increase of depression in the world is caused by modern life. In former times it were the usual disasters like famine, illness and war that caused depression, but in between people lived a mentally slower and simpler life than modern man, who lets himself being bombarded with input from all over the world through media and internet. Also, religion was in former times a consoling tranquillizer, while nowadays most people feel they should think in material and scientific terms. Music life has taken-on much of this modern life problem, everything is overheated, the hunt for ‘success’, orchestras playing every night a full programme and rehearse intensily with an absolute minimum of time, performers flying to all continents, etc. And you hear it in contemporary music: the 24/7 rush hour of modernity.

        • Dr. Judith Schlesinger says:

          I agree absolutely with you, John, and would only add one thing to your analysis: the popularity of depression as a go-to explanation for a host of difficulties, struggles, and failures. This is not to deny that some people do suffer a deeper and more persistent sadness than others, and need professional help to climb out of it — but the diagnosis has been minimized and diluted by its vast overuse.

          • John Borstlap says:

            Yes, that is also my impression. For most people, it is normal that life has its usual difficulties and the many barriers that intervene with the longing for fulfilment. But battling them is part of character development, life is not meant to be a happy place but a learning trajectory – at least, that appears to be the best way to get through it. I’m sure many cases of depression are simply the problems of emotional immaturity, and what fuels this immaturity? We only have to look around. Calling the normal sadness of adolescence ‘depression’, removes the problem from one’s own responsibility and this medicalisation circumvents the real challenge. It has become an easy label.

            But that does not mean that in the arts, and in music (which is an emotional art form), there are not more battles to engage with, because under the surface, serious music is in opposition to all those contemporary phenomenae which fuel immaturity.

  • James Aberdale says:

    It is more likely that musicians, like all creative people, are more predisposed to these conditions at birth; and would suffer to the same degree regardless of field. However, it is a cautionary indicator… if you’re not prepared for the inherent pressures and uncertainties of a musician’s way of life, or if you are on the fence about whether or not to pursue being a musician.. do yourself a favor and study something else.

  • John Borstlap says:

    Frightening story and depressing numbers.

    But, unless there is much overlap in the genres, there are 1,013 musicians that were anxious and/or depressed who were not asked in the first place:

    768 + 689 + 676 + 649 + 431 = 3,213, minus 2,200 respondents = 1,013.

    Classical musicians will have no overlap with pop, rock etc. and electronica and alternativa are on another planet altogether.

    But there may have been overlaps in the other genres. Pop and rock musicians may get anxious wihtin pop and depressed within rock or the other way around. Alternatives may swap all the time which makes their revelations unreliable. Electronicists surely get depressed quite independently. And what if you are a classical musician working OK in the classical music field but getting very depressed because his/her partner is a pop/rock fanatic? And what if you are so alternative that you are all on your own all the time and get depressed because you were left out of the research project? Does it still count, and if so, how could we know? It seems to have been a bit of a confused research.

    On BBC TV, extensive mention was made of the project and the outcome, including the leading academic who had been involved in carrying-out the research. NB: There was no mention AT ALL of ‘classical music’, as if ‘music’ and ‘musicians’ could ony refer to pop, rock etc. ‘Music’ meant, without any explanation; ‘the musci industry’. If media not even mention the existence of serious music, it is no wonder that for an increasing number of people it simply does not exist, since the same increasing number of people think that what is not mentioned in the media, does not exist. The research however, DID include ‘classical’ according to this post, with 689 depressed/anxious musicians. Where have they gone?

    • Jonathan Robinson says:

      John – the methodology is detailed in the pilot study which is also freely accessible here:

      Survey asked participants list the main genres in which they worked, so were not restricted to just one genre. No doubt about it, many would disagree with your statement that “Classical musicians will have no overlap with pop, rock etc”

  • Dr. Judith Schlesinger says:

    Oh, for Heaven’s sake. For one thing, it is not scientific to ask people whether or not they are depressed, and then use their “yes” as some kind of clinical “proof” that they actually are. People have all kinds of notions about what qualifies as depression, many of which would not meet standard diagnostic criteria. Bundling all these disparate self-reports together is an essentially meaningless enterprise, even if it makes a great headline.

    In any case, claiming that an “alarming” number of musicians are depressed without asking any other profession the same question, and comparing the results, is also nonsense.

    Why are people always so invested in pathologizing creativity???

    • John Borstlap says:


      The reason why so many people like to see creative people (? artists?) as mentally challenged, is because artists appear to be not entirely ‘normal’, being driven by motivations that escape understanding by people, mainly concerned about money, social approval, power, stock exchange, mother in law, etc.

      • Dr. Judith Schlesinger says:

        An excellent point, John. Surely musicians often tolerate a degree of financial and career ambiguity and instability that would unsettle many people. In these observers’ minds, anyone who voluntarily subjects him/herself to such hazards must have something wrong with them (an opinion too often shared by family members). !!

        • John Borstlap says:

          Yes, it is understandable that it looks that way, it seems entirely masochistic. It’s because the artistic vision is invisible to the environment, and it takes a long time before it can be realized, and then it takes another long time before other people begin to realize what it is. If the artist is then still alive, he may get very happy. But of course, artists jumping on the first band wagon that comes along, skip this trajectory, but it is very unlikely that they produce something lasting because the wagon has wheels.

  • Bruce says:

    “DOG BITES MAN.” Is this supposed to be news?

  • John Willan says:

    From the report, adding the numbers for each genre gives a total of 5,250 against 2211 responses. But the percentages are of the total responding. I wonder if, in the case of a person ticking both the pop and classical boxes, whether they are more depressed participating in the former genre or the latter?

  • John Borstlap says:

    1300 years ago, people struggled already with depression, probably including musicians: