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Only last month, in December 2020, Jesy Nelson announced that she was leaving Little Mix, the girl group that she had been part of since 2011. Citing mental health reasons, she stated that ‘the constant pressure of being in a girl group and living up to expectations’ is ‘very hard’ – and so Little Mix became a trio.
Jesy is a prime example of how the music industry can impact the mental health of stars. In the public eye, waves of internet trolls started attacking her almost the second she appeared on screen in 2012 while competing on the X-Factor. People attacked for not being thin enough, for being the ‘ugly’ one of Little Mix, and in 2013, she survived a suicide attempt. Whatever she did, she was attacked – Piers Morgan labelled their song ‘Strip’, a celebration of her body, as a publicity stunt. Jesy featured in a documentary in 2019, ‘Odd One Out’, that shed light on Jesy’s experience with internet trolls, her suicide attempt, and how fame has impacted her mental health.
This seems to be a repeating pattern in the industry. Britney Spears is another example that comes to mind. A talented young woman who had her personal issues put on blast in the media, who was criticised at every turn and mocked for anything that she did. When she had what the media termed as a ‘breakdown’ in 2008, overdosing on amphetamines and shaving her head, she was viciously torn down by the media and a conservatorship was awarded to her father, the constraints of which she still suffers from today.
Another, more recent example is Miley Cyrus. A teen idol, she began to chafe against that definition as she grew older, and at every turn was criticised and mocked by the media. Her hair, her clothes, and her body were relentlessly analysed and written about – remember the infamous twerking scandal?
This is a problem that seemingly all women are facing in the music industry. Whatever they do, they are criticised for it. Lizzo is attacked for being too fat, even though she has proven time and time again that she is not unfit or unhealthy. Artists are judged for showing skin, for NOT showing skin (see Billie Eilish), for their hair colours, for their dating lives, for absolutely anything and everything.
There have been studies that have found that musicians suffer from incredibly high rates of depression, with one 2018 study from the Music Industry Research Association showing that 50% of artists suffer from symptoms of depression, with a massive 12% reporting suicidal thoughts. The financial instability and pressure to tour also impacts mental health, influencing sleeping and eating habits, feelings of loneliness, and working long hours. Combined with cyberbullies and the deluge of negative comments that comes with opening any social media, it is no surprise that musicians and artists suffer so heavily. Addiction rates are high, and there are too many suicides amongst musicians. And then with the added mental stress of Covid-19, with millions self-isolating and unable to see friends and family, with again more potential financial stress, there is an inordinate amount of strain falling upon musicians.
Thankfully, there are organisations available to help any musicians struggling with mental health issues. Music Support has a service that signposts anyone struggling to mental health professionals, and Help Musicians also offers mental health support.
The links below are for anyone who is struggling with mental health and wishes to seek support and help.
Samaritans (or phone 116 123)