“What is fame? The advantage of being known by people of whom you yourself know nothing, and for whom you care as little.”
— Lord Byron
The Chinese believe in the philosophy of Yin and Yang, which is a concept of duality. Neither of them is complete without the other. The best real life example of this would be the drawbacks of stardom.
The music world has witnessed this aplenty. Stars who once ruled the music world died as recluse after their stardom faded. The audience craves for a new hero every day. Overnight stardom of many musicians is a testimony to this. Stardom can be gilded slavery. While the highs are alluring, the lows are at times devastating. Stardom is addictive, and for some, very temporary. It all depends from case to case and the level of stardom. There are many famous people who have been huge stars and are now happily retired from the spotlight.
In a recent case, a member of an Indian pop music duo, who are rated among the best in the country, took to social media to announce that he is taking a break from music. He admitted to suffering from anxiety, stress and depression due to the constant demands of touring and performing ‘big shows’. The said artist, in his mid 20’s, had lost the joy he once found in music and took a step back for a stress free life.
The death of Linkin Park’s vocalist Chester Bennington had sent shock waves across the music world. Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell, who spoke publicly about his depression, was found in his Detroit hotel room after a show. Amy Winehouse, superstar DJ Avicci, Prodigy frontman Keith Flint are among the many who the music world has recently lost to depression.
Musicians and mental health
A few years back, Help Musicians UK conducted a study into whether music was making people sick. The results were, quite frankly, not entirely surprising.
Out of the 2,211 people who took part in the study, 71 percent believed they had experienced panic attacks and high levels of anxiety. And 68 percent felt they were suffering from depression.
Shedding his opinion on the issue, Dr Chintan Naik, Clinical Psychologist at Apex Hospitals, said
“Artists are gifted and are very sensitive which them very brittle emotionally. When the artist goes out in the world, the struggle may affect them differently than an average person. They have a personality trait which might not be confirming with the society. This might make them feel that the society does not accept them.”
Musicians have been suffering from mental health deterioration since long. Most expressed it through their songs while others just chose a drastic route. The infamous ’27 Age Club’ includes musicians who were at their peak.
“I have witnessed my friends and peers falling to depression since I started my career. Back in 1992, we lost a close friend of the band who jumped to his death. He was absolutely normal in front of us. The thing is he never opened up about his problems so no one could help him out of them,” said Subir Malik of Parikrama.
In this world of social media, artists are expected to live dual lives now. Both come with their own set of problems. An artist might not always like to be in the spotlight but the pressure of being ‘seen’ is enormous. Not only the record labels or managers, even the fans want the artists to tweet, upload their Facebook status or Instagram their latest pictures as frequently as they can. In terms of pleasing people, finding recognition through them and selling his art for his livelihood.
Music was never meant to be a competition. But artists are known by the number of records, now streams/downloads, they have sold. They often find themselves competing and comparing themselves to those who are working toward the same goal. This competitive streak in musicians is pretty easy to relate to, as like in every professional field, everyone wants to ‘make it’ in their industry.
“An artist forgets the moot point of their journey which was pleasing themselves first through their music. One, at times, fails to protect the artist within and take care of one’s sensitivity. When this happens the challenges they face seem larger than what they might be,” asserted Dr. Naik.
The cash factor
Not every musician, that has set out to achieve musical glory has succeeded. Scores of them have fallen by the road side during their endeavour. This is the unknown lot. They exist but no one wants to believe they do. Not all of them are talented enough to reach the zenith. Many artists have sung about their initial failures and ironically these works have been their greatest success. Audience loves to hear about the pain and failure, as somewhere inside them they identify with it.
“This is more of an introspective journey which again is an individual one. No general reasons or formulaic assumptions can ever be made into the mind of a conflicted artist.” said musician and ex VJ, Luke Kenny.
“However one must make sure that there is a healthy support system around which can help ease the frustrations. This may change the course of thinking for the artist. It is in those times that greater ideas are born, and magnificent re-inventions take place.”
It is tough to survive just as a musician as one is constantly stressed about where the next cash influx is coming from. This can have a serious impact on an individual. That along with the society’s outlook towards music and it not being a full time job, only aggravates matters. An artist is often looked at as a dreamer pursuing his dreams and overlooking the serious aspects of life.
“A lot of times it is the questions posed by the society like ‘Ok, you are a musician but what do you do for a living?’. This makes it very difficult for the person to stand his ground,” quipped Dr. Naik.
This often triggers feelings of worthlessness or self-loathing. These self-critical thoughts, at times, make the artists fail to channelise their inner resourcefulness and deviate towards addictions. Musicians abusing alcohol or drugs, is not news anymore. Depression can alleviate these addictions. Being an artist is not directly linked to any addiction. The younger lot tend to get affected by these addictions on a graver scale. The self-abusive lifestyle has claimed a lot of young talent, recently, who carried their musical potential to the graves.
Leaning towards the substances is often due to our non-acceptance of mental health deterioration as a serious issue. Even if an individual opens up about his feelings, the issue is not dealt on as seriously as it needs to be. The trigger to this cannot be pin pointed. It can be failure of achievement as a musician, financial stability, lack of creative satisfaction, insecurity or even overdose/lack of stardom. Stardom engulfs you, it takes over every cell of your body.
The 90’s pop Diva Shweta Shetty is among the ones who experienced falling stardom when the Indi-pop industry slid into a decline.
“I always tell people if they want the stardom they should be strong enough to face the failures too,” said Shweta.
The diva took a sabbatical at her musical peak, got married and moved to Germany away from the limelight. The lack of the shutterbugs was something she missed initially.
“Luckily the break worked for me. I took up meditation which helped me recover. In fact, I started loving the freedom and hating the attention,” recalled Shweta.
Dealing with the situation
Mental health is now much more recognised and accepted. It’s still often referred to as ‘anxiety’ and ‘stress’ but there is so much more to mental health. Overall now, having mental health issues is increasingly seen as suffering from other health issues which need daily treatment and awareness.
“Earlier if one would open up about their mental health issues, they would be termed as ‘mad’. This has now changed a lot and for the better. People now understand that anyone can be affected by this and hence are more open and caring. A good support system and family support is essential,” asserted Subir.
‘Good Vibrations – Musicians mental health support group’ is one such organisation. Founded by Ritnika Nayan, a certified energy therapist and life coach, the group meets once a month to talk about what’s on their mind. It’s a free and safe space where there are no rules or judgement.
“I run a music company called ‘Music Gets Me High’ and since I understand the mind set of artists and the lifestyle we lead I felt inclined to help. Every single person I know either suffers from anxiety, depression or addictive behaviours. No one has ever taught us how to deal with our emotions and getting help seems unnecessary and often looked down upon,” said Ritnika.
Though this may not eradicate the issue, it is a positive in building a support system. Crucially even the musicians have to address these issues themselves. It cannot be possible for every individual to get help and support. The idea is to seek a more balanced way of life. One needs to take care of their emotions, success and failures. If you have fallen prey to depression it is best to reach out and seek help.
“I just hope people start putting their mental health as a priority as without that, nothing is possible. We don’t have to be perfect and we don’t have to feel like something is wrong with us. We just need a little help to get by from people who have experienced the same things we feel,” said Ritnika.
In 2016, Sony Music UK became the first music company to partner with a mental health charity (MIND). The label committed itself to support its staff, in “mental health first aid” training. It also offered activities in the office such as yoga and body acceptance discussions. It also offered to host a “Mental Health & Music” panel discussion at its company HQ in London.
The Indian music industry needs to get in action and ensure that their own artists receive guidance and support when needed. The fragility of the situation should not be ignored and a support system needs be developed soon. The ‘powers’ in the industry need to ensure help that is out there for the people who need it and come up with a policy to ensure this.