Why Musicians Are So Prone to Depression

Are musicians less happy than others?

Are they more prone to depression and the pitfalls of drugs, alcohol, pills, or unfulfilled lives?  And if so, should something be done about it?

This is a really tricky topic, simply because it’s so hard to measure happiness, mood, and overall life outlook.  But when’s the last time your favorite superstar athlete blew his brains out with a shotgun, succumbed to meds, overdosed suddenly, or showed up to the game drunk?

Of course it happens from time to time, but in musical circles it seems to happen all the time.  And, that also includes related creative pursuits like poetry, visual art, and literature.  In fact, several studies have asserted a link between creativity and mood disorder, including noted findings from the University of Iowa and Johns Hopkins University.

There are even books on the matter, and recurring arguments that mental problems can contribute to rich creative works.  Maybe this is an ironic, sad reality that music fans understand all too well.  Because bands that ‘go clean,’ enter therapy, or suddenly appreciate their mortality seem to produce bland, more boring music as a result.

Then again, the life of a musician is typically rough, with or without the drugs.  Health.com recently ranked ‘artists, entertainers, and writers’ as the fifth most likely profession to suffer from depression, behind other stressful slots like nursing home aides, doctors, and food service staff.  The study cited lots of situational factors, including low pay, irregular pay, lots of uncertainty, and isolation.  And these days, success often requires lots of time on the road, and extreme variation in audience reception.

Perhaps it’s the cocktail that kills, sometimes literally.  “Depression is not uncommon to those who are drawn to work in the arts, and then the lifestyle contributes to it,” commented Deborah Legge, PhD, a mental health counselor in Buffalo.

Paul Resnikoff, publisher.