Mental Health Day

This Thursday it will be university mental health day. So it seems a good moment to remember the healing powers of music, but also the high density of mental health issues amongst musicians and other creatives.

In times of trouble, we turn to music. After the twin towers fell, they sang at Ground Zero. And after the mass shooting in Charleston, President Obama sang. On a less serious note, how many great pop songs are a product of grief and heartbreak?

Music heals. It heals broken hearts, and ‘broken’ minds. It has even been used to heal divides between countries - take Daniel Barenboim’s Western-Eastern Divan orchestra as an example.

But the act of making music, or rather the pressure of learning to consistently deliver quality performance, can also be so damaging. I have lost count of the number of friends and colleagues who suffer from anxiety and depression to varying degrees. This is particularly evident in conservatoire - I remember hearing in my first week at Guildhall that around 70/80 per cent of students go for counselling at some point in their studies. This is partly due to the wonderful atmosphere of openness - it is OK to admit that you are not OK - and partly due to the daily pressures we face to perform and deliver; and the criticism that faces every step we take.

To perform is to offer a piece of yourself to your audience. It is an intensely personal experience. You are not just asking an audience to like your performance, you are often asking them to like you. Or so it can feel. As performers and creatives, we often feel pressure to go above and beyond what is deemed normal or necessary to deliver the ultimate experience to our audiences - but at what cost?

Music is awesomely powerful. But that power goes both ways. This Thursday take an extra moment to be kind - both to those people who you know to struggle with their mental health and those who may keep to it to themselves. And after that, take a few minutes to listen to your favourite song - not on the tube, or walking down the pavement - actually stop and listen. And let the music do its work.

Find out more about university mental health day here: