Musicians and Mental Disorders

musician mental disorderMusicians are often intriguing, popular characters who are well respected for their devotion to their craft. However, it is very common for musicians to have characteristics that they try not to let the public see: mental disorders. Mental disorders are common among all types of artists. The artistic process requires sensitivity, but sensitivity also opens doors to mental illness and chaos. Which influences which – the sensitivity or the disorder – is the chicken or the egg debate. It has simply been observed that artistry and mental disorder frequently go together. The most common mental disorders that musicians are diagnosed with are as follows.

  • Depression. This mental disorder and its relatives, such as bipolar and manic depression, are more common than any other among musicians. It may appear in a less severe form, such as a creative slump or writer’s block, or it may take hold of the musician’s life in a very severe way, affecting their ability to function on many levels. This mental disorder is very detrimental to a person’s life because it undermines all of their talent and ability with low self esteem and lack of confidence. Like any case of depression, it can become dangerous if the musician begins to have suicidal or self punishing thoughts. These cases warrant professional help and intervention.
  • Anxiety. Nervous conditions such as anxiety, panic attacks and forms of neurosis are common to musicians. In the tradition of artist’s mental problems, anxiety disorders also develop out of an artist’s sensitive nature. In these cases, an artist’s sensitivity makes them overly aware of the environment around them. They become tuned in to small details and nuances that other people do not pick up on. This increases their artistic abilities but also magnifies the negative things around them, making them anxious and neurotic.
  • Attention disorders. Also known as executive function disorders, attention problems such as attention deficit disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are frequently connected to musicians. A musician’s creative brain can frequently be much more developed than their organized brain, in many cases. The brilliant musician who cannot manage the basic responsibilities of their life is a common but accurate stereotype.

Musicians, Drugs and Alcohol

musician substance abuseUsing controversial substances as an artist or musician is a highly debatable practice that warrants extreme caution. Substance use in the music community is a controversial matter. Some argue that certain substances, such as hallucinogens, can actually enhance the creative process of writing music, while others argue that using substances destroys the creative mind and makes it lackluster. It is an absolute certainty that abusing substances does physical and mental damage to everyone, including artists.

The jury is still out on the use of certain mild substances, but it is the question of moderation and dosage that creates complications. One can cautiously defend the use of certain substances to enhance the creative process. Even ancient cultures celebrated the use of substances such as peyote and cannabis to experience “visions” and enhance mental scope. The topic of permissible drug use is still under much scrutiny and debate in North America, as well as many other world regions. Some studies reveal that cetain hallucinogens, cannabinoids and opioids can actually increase memory and brain function. Many musicians and artists have sworn by certain substances to inspire their creative work.

Because musicians often have a true need to experiment and to find ways of coping with strong emotions, substance abuse seems like a remedy but proves to ultimately be a hindrance. The strongest reasons to oppose substance use in musicians is the problem of addiction and mental disorders. It is a blurred line where substance use becomes substance abuse, but it can be certain that substance abuse is very prevalent in the music community. The high functioning yet emotional brains of musicians seek ways of learning through experimentation and coping with strong emotions. Music fills this need in a healthy, permanent way, while substance abuse fills this need in a hollow, unhealthy way. Substance abuse is like an instant gratification for the brain of a musician in place of the life purpose that their brain is actually wired for. Substance abuse is unsustainable and results in addiction and mental disorders in musicians.