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Music Has a Mental Health Problem That Needs Immediate Treatment (Guest Column)

Writes Maverick's Nick Jarjour: "Our negligence should have changed 25 years ago after Kurt Cobain’s tragic suicide."

In the wake of the tragic, premature deaths of Avicii and Lil Peep, the music industry needs to do a better job at treating mental illness among musicians, artists, writers, producers and professionals. Again and again, there are warning signs and early cries for help that we cannot ignore.

A survey on music and mental health by Help Musicians UK found that of 2,000 musicians interviewed, 71% experience anxiety and 68.5% deal with depression. This comes as no surprise to me. Musicians are sensitive and emotionally cognizant, and these issues are so often exacerbated for those who live in the public eye and whose struggles are amplified by fame and social media scrutiny. The most disconcerting discovery from that study was the revelation that well over half of these individuals report not receiving treatment for their issues.

Sadly in many ways, the industry is designed to negatively impact the mental health of practically everyone involved in making music. Musicians of all levels live with a daily pressure to deliver bigger, better, and more successful work. In between strenuous tour cycles where keeping a healthy lifestyle can become incredibly difficult, and high-pressure deadlines from labels that can create high anxiety, up-and-coming artists are often not equipped to handle the mental strain. (Earl Sweatshirt, who recently announced that he was calling off a European tour due to issues with anxiety and depression, is the exception, not the rule.)

And the struggles don’t end when success and money come into play, as we have seen with the many breakdowns of artists who live under a microscope. Their mental health issues are often turned into public entertainment or even worse vilification.

Often misperceived as a benign aspect of the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, substance abuse sometimes feels like the only way to cope for many musicians. Our culture and industry practically encourages it. Whether it’s casual use of codeine or xanax, prescription drugs are practically as prevalent as drum machines on the current charts. Are artists to be blamed? The experiences expressed in the music reflects their daily life — but at what point do we admit that using drugs to cope with depression and anxiety is an extremely dangerous pop culture trend? Leaders in this industry must commit to protecting artists and their health instead of profiting off of the failure to address these problems. The music business is the human business — these individuals are precious, and our negligence should have changed 25 years ago after Kurt Cobain’s tragic suicide. Instead, we are still wondering which creative genius might be next to go.

One key element missing from every major record and publishing deal is health insurance. Band members aren’t offered any, and neither are their families. Furthermore, they’re not given guidance about something so basic that every American citizen is entitled to. I know many instances where labels have opted to pay for plastic surgery for artists, yet it seems to be a rare occurrence in North America that they invest in the health of their clients. Why aren’t conversations about health as commonplace as those involving a photo shoot or marketing ideas? It makes me wonder why labels don’t employ therapists and mental health specialists for their artists, instead of so many other unnecessary services.

Artists aren’t the only ones suffering. Others working in the industry are also prone to depression, loneliness and anxiety, and they shouldn’t be ignored, either. So I’m calling on every executive, manager, and artist representative with a friend, client or employee in need of help to act. Let’s come together as an industry and provide reliable health and wellness support within all circles of our business. We owe the world our best effort to avoid another tragic loss.

Nick Jarjour is a partner at Maverick Management and represents Alex Da Kid, Starrah and Cirkut, among other in-demand writers and producers. He was profiled in Variety‘s 2017 New Leaders report in October. Follow him on Twitter at @NickJarjour and on Instagram

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