On The Need To Keep Talking About Mental Health & Provide Support To ‘Anyone Who Has A Hand In Making The Music Happen’

Photo credit: Carol Yepes / Getty

Metallica frontman James Hetfield, who has battled addiction for many years, recently made headlines for candidly sharing about his struggles with anxiety during a show in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

Noting that he wasn’t “feeling very good” before he took the stage, Hetfield explained he had been “feeling a little bit insecure, like, ‘I’m an old guy, can’t play anymore,’ all this bullshit that I tell myself in my head. So, I talked to [my bandmates], and they helped me – as simple as that. They gave me a hug and said, ‘Hey, if you’re struggling onstage, we’ve got your back.’ And I tell you, it means the world to me.”

After his bandmates surrounded the guitarist in a group hug, Hetfield wiped away tears and addressed fans with a message of encouragement: “And seeing you out there, I am not alone. I am not alone, and neither are you.”

Hetfield is certainly not alone in his mental health struggles.

From the tragic news that Naomi Judd died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound on April 30 to Aerosmith canceling shows a few weeks ago so frontman Steven Tyler could enter a rehabilitation program, it is clear that many folks in the music industry are facing mental health struggles and need support now more than ever.

Although mental health concerns and substance abuse among creative types have been well documented for decades, the hardships of the past few years have exacerbated these issues. Our society is wrestling with burnout and feelings of hopelessness as it continues dealing with the ramifications of the pandemic, along with stress caused by inflation, ongoing gun violence, racism, attacks on women’s reproductive rights, the effects of climate change – the list goes on.

Regardless of which industry one works in, the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on mental health, with a scientific brief released by the World Health Organization (WHO) in March 2022 stating that “in the first year of the COVID-18 pandemic, global prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by a massive 25%.”

The music industry is one sector hit hardest by the pandemic, with artists and touring professionals, including venue staff and production crews, facing financial hardship as they waited more than a year for shows to return to the stage. Though tours and festivals are thankfully back on the road and demand for live events seems stronger than ever – with Live Nation reporting its “best first quarter ever” – many in the industry continue to grapple with financial and mental health concerns.

In February, MusiCares released the results of the second installment of its Wellness in Music Survey, which was launched in October 2021 and concluded in December, giving an overview of the mental health and well-being of individuals who earn their living in the music industry. While things are looking up compared to 2020’s survey, the latest edition still found that 46% of respondents “felt moderately high to very high levels of financial stress every day.” Only 20% reported moderate to severe levels of depression but 56% reported feeling moderately high to very high levels of anxiety. Half of respondents sought counseling for depression, anxiety and stress, but 38% of those respondents said they couldn’t afford it.

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photo credit: Sean Gladwell / Getty Images

On a positive note, help is out there, with a number of organizations tailoring their services to meet the needs of those in the music industry.

MusiCares partners with therapists, psychologists and other providers across the U.S. to provide free mental health services to music industry professionals through the Emergency Financial Assistance Program and the organization has pledged to “expand and diversify the mental health providers it works with in order to accommodate the increasing need for mental healthcare within the music industry.” MusiCares also offers 10 free weekly online emotional support and addiction recovery support groups including a Black Music Community Group and a LGBTQ Music Community Group.

Nonprofit Backline, which was launched in 2019, connects music industry professionals and their families with mental health and wellness resources, including providing one-on-one sessions with case managers to create a mental health care plan catered to one’s needs. Backline co-founder Hilary Gleason explains that case managers each have unique backgrounds, but some connection to the music industry, as it’s important for the case managers to be able to ask questions like, “When is your next album cycle? Would this be the right time for you to be accessing care?” Backline works with over 350 mental health providers around the country, most of whom have experience working with the music community and who offer a sliding scale or pro-bono rates.

“We do see people coming to us from every part of the industry. We have venue staff and security, bartenders, photographers, and we have agents who sit in an office, as well as touring crew members and artists,” Gleason says. “So, it’s really the full breadth of the music industry that is accessing our services.”

She adds, “We also offer our services to the family members of anyone in the music industry. … If your partner is struggling, it’s going to affect the way that you’re showing up to work; it’s going to affect your mental health. And so, we really see it as critical that we are offering the support to anyone in the music industry. You know, we say anyone who has a hand in making the music happen. I think including family and venue security in that makes a huge difference on the overall experience and how people are able to show up and play their part here.”

Those who work in the music industry face challenges related to routine with late nights leading to lack of sleep and time away from home, along with societal pressures to be available and responsive all hours of the day – all of which are factors that can contribute to mental health issues.

“And then I think the substance abuse and substance use in the industry can’t be understated,” Gleason says. “So, it can be really hard to maintain a wellness routine or even just that healthy lifestyle in terms of food and substance intake when the general population is eating late night pizza and drinking and anything else … when what you’re surrounded with is so not focused on wellness.”

One takeaway from the hardships of the last few years is that health is everything – and that taking care of one’s mental health is just as important as physical health. It is essential to integrate mental health into one’s life on an everyday basis and to take preventative measures to reduce stress – rather than being forced to jump into action during a crisis mode.

“Self-care looks a little different for everybody. One person may [choose] meditation and another person might be going for a daily run. Whatever self-care means for you, it’s so important that each individual prioritizes it,” Laura Segura, Executive Director for MusiCares, says. “Mental health isn’t something that happens alone. I think everybody shares the challenges of mental health, and there’s no such thing as a perfect balance. Having friends and a community that understands and supports one another’s mental health or mental health choices is self-care.

“At MusiCares, we work with so many agents and managers and labels and publicists and people who are not only themselves important professionals in music, but they’re also in the support roles helping creatives create music. I think it’s important that the entire network of the community watches out for one another … if everyone could find a way to put that in their strategic goals for the year, you know, not just making it about profit [or] tour stops – making it about caring for the people around you.”

UTA agent Daniel McCartney, whose clients include DaniLeigh, Hunny, MOD SUN and Young Thug, launched nonprofit organization The Continuance Foundation in 2020 as the resource he wishes he had access to when he was a guitarist in the metal band Gideon.

McCartney notes that the organization – which partners with licensed therapists and coaches to provide mental health care to musicians and industry professionals as well as providing advocacy, meditation sessions and virtual events – has “been able to impact collectively over 1,000 people in the music business on the industry side, professional musicians on the creative side, aspiring musicians, producers, writers and more.” He adds that “that number grows every day!”

The foundation’s website includes testimonials from folks including The Smashing Pumpkins guitarist Jeff Schroeder who says, “The Continuance Foundation was there for me when I desperately needed it. I was at a place in my life when I felt as though things were collapsing from the inside out. I can honestly say I don’t know where I would be today without their assistance.”

The Continuance Foundation is developing The Continue Project initiative to design self-care days into the tasking schedules of musicians, with the help of touring artists advising on healthy practices on the road.

“Agents, managers, A&R’s attorneys, or any role that may involve working with a musician must educate themselves on the subject of mental health both for themselves and for their clients,” McCartney says. “Music changes the world and molds our culture. Music saves lives. Music motivates. If our musicians, writers and producers are not mentally healthy, the culture will suffer. In a lot of ways, creatives use their craft and art as their own form of therapy. I’m certain many musicians attribute their craft to saving their own life even. Change won’t happen overnight, but it must happen and more times than not, you may not understand how much just reaching out and offering resources to someone can save someone’s life.”

For more information visit musicares.org, backline.care and thecontinuancefoundation.com/