It seems like reminders come up every few days about the anniversaries of musicians’ deaths, with two genre-definers of the lot having passed just this week. 40 years on, the influence of Ian Curtis and his band Joy Division can still be felt on every part of modern music, with post punk and new wave goth having an impact on everything from emo to EDM. When Curtis committed suicide in 1980, there was literally no help for artists struggling with mental health issues; in fact it was romanticized for talented artists to die of overdose or by suicide. The old line that great art comes from great suffering, still parroted now, was in full effect in the 70s and 80s punk scene.
By 2017, the world was just starting to wake up to the idea that musicians, writers and artists potentially deserved help for their problems and should be supported rather than allowed to let their demons run riot in the name of good art. Unfortunately it was too little, too late for another innovator in rock, Chris Cornell. While many contend his death might have been accidental and a result of medication he was on, it was nonetheless pretty clear that he was struggling.
A few months after Cornell’s death, Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington also passed from suicide, followed in close succession by EDM artist Avicii, Mac Miller, writer/TV presenter Anthony Bourdain and Keith Flint, just to name a few. The sheer per capita number of famous musical artists who have died by their own hand is staggering, not to mention those who have toiled in obscurity. Now as society learns more about mental health and how to care for people who have problems, there’s a hope that we can finally step up and help those who suffer.
Now with the COVID-19 outbreak hitting businesses hard and causing more isolation of people who suffer from mental illness, it’s important to be kind to everyone with this silent disability but once again the toll may be greater overall for musical artists. The music industry has been one of the hardest hit by the shut-down. In most countries gatherings of more than ten people have been stymied indefinitely, stopping festivals or even smaller shows from existing at all. Artists who usually make their living from touring have also been hit hard by travel restrictions, and many of these entertainers are not able to collect stimulus pay or unemployment due to technically being freelancers.
Despite all this, these endlessly creative and giving souls are not only still releasing music, oftentimes sharing it for free, but they’re putting on livestream performances. Any time of day or night, a music lover will likely be able to find a live performance from one of their favorite artists. Often these streams are also trying to raise money for charities surrounding COVID and the musicians aren’t making a dime for their time.
These musicians and artist might seem like they’re happy or at the very least ok, but remember they’re putting on a show for entertainment. The cracks have already started to show for some artists and now more than ever the world is realizing what a precious asset they really are. So what can we do so help and support artists who may be struggling?
Check in with your musician friends
It can feel a bit awkward or intrusive to check up on anyone who’s going through depression, mental illness or grief but it doesn’t have to be. A simple “what’s up?” on Facebook can often suffice to let someone know you care and you value them. There are countless stories from people who were contemplating suicide or self-harm who said that a simple smile or “how are you” from a stranger kept them from following through. You don’t have to mention what the person is going through, just mention you’re there to talk. Even if it is awkward, you may still save a life.
If You’re Suffering, Try Reaching Out
This can be easier said than done for those of us who are struggling with depression or other mental illness and it can be even more difficult if you’re a musician for a number of reasons: feeling like people only want to be around you for guestlist, connections or free music, feeling disassociated because of having to put on a persona while performing and even feeling like you have to tell loved ones you’re ok because they may have already been scrutinizing your behavior for signs can all make an artist feel like they have no one who really understands. Try picking someone you don’t know well (not a fan and preferably not an industry person) that you can just have a laugh with. It can help just to feel that connection with none of the other stigmae weighing you down.
Help is out there
Whether you’re a musician going through something yourself or you have a friend or loved one who seems to be having a tough time, even in lockdown there are resources both for musicians and non-musicians to get immediate help, even if it’s just a text. Here’s a list of helplines, text lines and more to keep at hand if you’re struggling or know someone who’s been feeling down (note: the charities that are located in the UK will also help if you’re in a different country):
Crisis Text Line (Second specialty line set up for those experiencing depression due to social distancing)
It’s in human nature to feel the need to take stock, have emotional ups and downs and even have screwy brain chemistry, but being in prolonged mental pain can be unbearable. Being emotionally open, sensitive and creative is part of an artist’s job, so sometimes those mood swings or dips in serotonin can be even more pronounced. What makes fans and families of rockers like Ian Curtis and Chris Cornell the most upset is generally not just because they’ll miss their music but, as with anyone, learning that they’d been suffering in silence. Whether it’s you who’s feeling depressed or someone you know, even casually: there’s power in speaking up and checking in. Let’s take care of ourselves and our artists while the lockdown lasts and beyond.
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