Depression and the arts recently published a top 10 of professions with the highest rate of depression– one chart most artists wouldn’t want to be on. However, people working in the arts are fifth most likely to suffer from depression, with around 9% of them reporting a major depressive episode in the previous year. It appears carving out a career as a musician isn’t just perilous when it comes to earning a living – it can also cause damage to your physical and mental health. Musicians supplementing their income by waiting tables would rate even higher on the chart, as food service staff are second most prone to depression.

Among men – who are most likely to be associated with major depression – the rate is nearly 7% for full-time workers. Those figures are not surprising. Many prominent artists have suffered depression and died as a result.

Drugs and alcohol have featured in the lifestyles of so many performers for so long that sometimes it’s difficult to tell if depression is the symptom or the cause. Some artists, as Marvin Gaye did, use them to steady their nerves before performances; others use them to come down from the high of the performance. There seem to be more people in the arts who attend Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings than in any other profession.

Many people who become performers do so to fulfill a craving for acceptance and love from their audience; they need that affirmation to be able to feel good. But having a love affair with thousands of people you don’t know is bound to lead to dissatisfaction, heartbreak and disappointment – often as soon as you leave the stage.

It also appears that a high proportion of people with depressive illnesses are drawn to working in the arts, though often their problems go undiagnosed and untreated. Often, what makes an artist great is the fact that they’re born “with a skin too few” – which might be why some worry that getting medical treatment would stifle their creativity or make their output less interesting – but that also makes them less able to handle the pressures of not knowing where their next pay packet will come from, and being expected to always be at the top of their game.

Does this mean that you have to suffer for your art? There is a certain morbid fascination in watching an artist crash and burn, but the reality for the sufferer is that depression is so debilitating it’s impossible to create anything at all. It’s only when emerge from a period of illness that you can look at the darkness and find the words to describe it. So maybe the key to being a great artist and songwriter with a long and happy life is to dare to go to those dark places – but don’t make them your home.

I am crediting “Behind the Music,” for parts of this post.

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