Mental health

Breaking the Mental Health Stigma in the Music Industry

Posted by Cassandra Popescu on February 08, 2019
silhouette of woman playing piano

Content Warning: This article contains potentially triggering content, including mentions of mental health challenges and suicide.


A U.K. study focusing on the mental health of music professionals revealed that over 70 percent of music-makers have experienced some form of mental health challenges. While conversations have been opening up around mental health, more than half of music professionals still struggle to find help or receive proper treatment. It’s time we start thinking of mental health as a priority, and an integral part of our overall health.

We asked members of our music community what can be done to further conversations around mental health, and how to offer help when someone is struggling.

How can we break the stigma?

Mike Schwartz, Musician/Wellness Coach

"Opening the conversation and talking about mental health is the right start in order to normalize it, but now it’s time to invest in the solutions.

We need more workshops that empower our community to better navigate mental health issues, more access and supported funding into proactive health professionals whose practices make a difference in the lives of our music community, and most importantly, facilitating partnerships with these professionals at the grassroots level.

Sure, getting information about proactive health into the festival scene, artist development camps, and in music conferences is awesome, but if we can provide the tools to a whole new generation of musicians we stand a better shot at breaking the stigma."


Carmen Elle, Musician/Mental Health Advocate

"I think it's important to talk, but it's just as important to listen. There have been so many times when just having someone hear me and not try to offer a quick fix has helped me so immensely.

Sometimes the desire to help someone can actually make them feel even more invisible so I encourage the allies of those who experience mental health issues to stay close to the pain of their friends, family or partners and show them that how they feel isn't scary or too much to handle. That's where the love really is."


X ARI, Musician/Mental Health Advocate

"We can break the stigma by supporting open conversations about the topic. We can challenge misconceptions by speaking up about our own experiences and thereby let others know they are not alone in the process. We can show our emotions more freely. We can share our stories publicly on important mental health days and contribute to the cause by donating to impactful mental health organizations."


Wali Shah, Rapper/Spoken Word Artist

"After a teacher introduced me to Tupac Shakur's poetry in high-school, I was inspired. My teacher, Ms. Riley, encouraged me and believed in me. That was all I needed to hear. I was able to explore my own narrative about who I was and share my talent. I took my narrative, my experiences, and my anxiety to create poetry that I felt others could relate to.

I now reach out to other young people. Maybe someone can recognize themselves in my words and stories, and I can be a mentor like Ms. Riley was to me. Because breaking the stigma isn't just about money raised. It's about being a friend, and a mentor. To be caring, and empathetic."


From left: Bill Bell, Carmen Elle, Wali Shah, X ARI
From left: Bill Bell, Carmen Elle, Wali Shah, X ARI 


Amanda Rheaume, Musician

"We need to talk about it. We need to share our individual stories. Once I started telling people in my life that I was struggling I was shocked at how many people felt comfortable to open up and tell me about their own struggles with mental health.

Having an imbalance in your brain chemistry, or living with trauma, or receiving any diagnosis related to mental health doesn’t make anyone less of a person, or less lovable. I thought I was never going to get better. I didn’t want to be alive at one point because the idea of living the rest of my life 'sick' was unbearable. But by speaking my truth, asking for help, and coming to understand how my brain and body worked, I was able to lift the fog and crawl out from under the heavy blanket of my depression and anxiety."


Florence K, Musician/Mental Health Advocate

"Many are still suffering in silence, whether it’s because their condition doesn’t allow them to be aware of it, because they don’t have the words to talk about it, they feel ashamed or they fear the reaction of others, or simply because they don’t know who to turn to and where to reach out for help.

Many have been taught or have wrongly come to the conclusion that mental illness is a sign of 'weakness,' self-victimization, or a 'way to gather attention.' This has to change. It’s far from being the truth, and it stops many from reaching out or opening up when they are not doing well."


Dan Tait, Musician

"We need to understand that absolutely everybody is prone to mental health struggles, and that without proper maintenance of these important structures we could all fall into a very difficult place. If you ever have concern for a friend or coworker, please just ask - and reach out. It’s near impossible to reach out for help in the depths of depression… But if someone reaches out with sincerity and care, then that could very well make a huge difference in both of those individuals’ lives."


Bill Bell, Musician

"It’s all about love. Talk with someone. Share your story. There’s strength in vulnerability, there’s power in your story. You’re a survivor, be proud."


From left: Amanda Rheaume, Florence K, Dan Tait, Mike Schwartz
From left: Amanda Rheaume, Florence K, Dan Tait, Mike Schwartz


It’s incredibly important that those experiencing mental health challenges know there’s someone to turn to. Unison has helped over 500 individuals and their families receive help when they’re struggling. As we continue the conversation, more people are beginning to ask for help when they need it, and demand keeps increasing.

In order to ensure help is readily available for all Canadian music professionals, we require the support of music lovers and our community. With your donations, music workers in crisis can count on someone to talk to, and somewhere to access resources.

Donate today to invest in the health and resilience of the Canadian music community.

The Unison Benevolent Fund provides counselling for Canadian music-makers in need of help. Register with Unison and call 1-855-9UNISON to access counselling. For more information about the help provided, please visit our Counselling & Health Solutions page.