Now I’m In It: HAIM, Musicians, and Mental Health
Updated: Nov 8, 2019
Being a professional musician is hard; there’s no other way to put it.
It’s a career that simultaneously fills you with dread and passion, and even when you know in your heart that you could never really do anything else, you spend most of your time wondering why you’re doing it at all. In a world with a distinct absence of boundaries between personal and professional lives, it comes as no surprise that mental health issues are substantially more prevalent in this industry compared to the general public. Musicians are suffering from anxiety and depression in astronomical numbers- a 2016 survey commissioned by Help Musicians UK found that 71% of respondents admitted to having suffering panic attacks and/ or high levels of anxiety and 69% suggested they had suffered from depression.
Whilst the act of creating music in itself is widely considered therapeutic, the working conditions of the industry, and the all too often defeated attempts to forge success amongst the chaos, can often become destructive. Now I’m In It, the new single from HAIM, touches on these themes and was released following a personal statement on Instagram from Danielle Haim.
“Now I’m In It is about going through it. A depression. Not leaving the house type of shit. For my sisters and I, there have been times in our lives where we have felt like we are stuck in a dark hole. This track speaks to that emotion. The track is chaotic- like my mind when I’m spiralling. Fast-talking to myself- words jumbled up. Heartbeat racing. These times are hard to forget and even harder to work through. After being constantly on the go the past couple years, I didn’t wanna stop and deal with some shit. Also, every day my sisters and I feel so fucking lucky that we get to do this for a living! It seemed like stopping and dealing with these emotions would be letting everyone down. But every time I’ve been depressed- it takes me accepting that I need help, to start to get out of it. It’s gotten a little easier as I have gotten older to recognize the symptoms and remind myself that when this happens, I need to seek help. (shout out to my therapist!!) Anyway, we all know it’s important to talk about this stuff. This one poured out of us. Take care of yourself. Be nice to yourself. And thank the ones around you that help you every day. Hope this helps anyone who is in it right now.”
One of the greatest parts of being a musician is being your own boss; not having to turn up to a menial office job 5 days a week and type numbers into a spreadsheet whilst keeping one eye on a clock that never seems to move fast enough. It’s a privilege to make a living doing something you’re passionate about and to be calling your own shots. But there is a problem within this industry and the lack of work structure plays a significant role in musicians pushing themselves to the point of burnout. The general consensus is no matter how hard you work, its just not enough.
Gone are the days of being signed up to a label and having a generous advance deposited into your account. Gone are the days of focusing on your craft- the thing you feel you were born to do- as a team of professionals work around you to make all the other details fit into place. It's no longer enough to be a musician or an artist, nowadays you're expected at bare minimum to be a business; proficient in management, marketing, design, and production. You pour any money that comes your way into your career and spend 90% of your time grappling with algorithms and analytics. Your writing process becomes infected, infested by the idea of what will "work" and, all too suddenly, it's not an escape anymore, and it definitely doesn't resemble the dream you had when you started. And say it all pays off- say you're lucky enough to reach the upper levels of success the majority of musicians can only dream of... You're so aware of the fortune you've struck that even when problems arise you're plagued with guilt and anxiety by the idea of taking time out. With all these odds stacked against us, is there any wonder we're all "going through it"?
It's not to say it's a lost cause. There are so many incredible pieces of being a musician, and it's a career that can, and does, produce happy successful lives. But things need to change. In the second part of their report, Help Musicians UK highlighted three recommendations to help protect the mental well being of musicians in the industry.
Mental health issues should be embedded in the curriculum of music education courses so that students are aware of the potential challenges. There’s also a need to stimulate a wider discussion about mental health with working musicians throughout the industry.
A mental health support service for those working in music
Musicians want professional mental health services that are affordable and easy to access. They also want to talk to people who understand the unique issues that they face.
A Code of Best Practice
A Code of Best Practice would act as a voluntary demonstration of organisations’ awareness of mental health problems in the industry, allied to a commitment to kindness and tolerance and an understanding of the challenges faced by creative workers.
The pivotal moment in any movement for change is the beginning of conversation- as a community and as an industry we're learning the importance of speaking about these issues in an honest and meaningful way. High profile artists like HAIM using social media to highlight their own personal struggles and pushing the conversations forward is a significant step in the right direction. Additionally, a number of music-specialised support charities have emerged over the past few years, offering 24/7 help to any musician in a crisis. There's yet to be a substantial industry-wide Code of Best Practice but the conversation of mental health in music is only growing larger, and hopefully musicians won't be left to fend for their own well being for much longer. In the meantime all we can do is remember that balance is key. Take time off, learn to identify the small issues before they grow, and remember: "Take care of yourself. Be nice to yourself. And thank the ones around you that help you every day. Hope this helps anyone who is in it right now.”
If you’re a musician struggling with mental health visit www.musicsupport.org or call 0800 030 6789.