- 10 Oct 22
In the Hot Press Mental Health Special, a selection of the country’s top musicians share their views on this enormously important subject. Plus, we look to grow the conversation further, highlight the issues, and help to give people the tools to deal with life’s many challenges.
When it comes to mental health, musicians and creatives are often at the forefront of the conversation. Just look at the slate of recent gig cancellations, with Arlo Parks, Santigold and Shawn Mendes among the major artists citing mental health issues as the core reason for pulling the plug on imminent tours and focusing on their wellbeing – as they should.
There is no escaping the fact that a life of constant touring, exposure on social media and pressure from fans to perform at a top level every night creates its own layers of stress and anxiety. Some artists cope with that well, others less so, In a history-making move, Houston rapper Megan Thee Stallion recently launched a website full of mental health resources for her fans, inspired by her Traumazine track ‘Anxiety’. The site includes links to inclusive, LGBTQ-friendly organisations, numbers for helplines and ways fans can find nearby Black therapists.
The rapper has the right idea. According to a study done by the University of Westminster and MusicTank, a startling 68.5% of 2,211 musicians said they have experienced depression, while 71.1% said they had experienced severe anxiety or panic attacks. The results illustrate that musicians are three times more susceptible to depression than the average person.
Thanks to poor sleep schedules, bad diet on the road and cumulative late nights, the touring lifestyle makes artists more likely to abuse caffeine, sedatives and migraine medications. The constant travel means they have to leave their family, friends and usual support groups behind – while life off-tour often includes periods of decompression, as well as alienation and stress over writer’s block and deadlines. Reading what Irish musicians have to say on the issue in the Hot Press Mental Health Special is highly illuminating.
Of course, the epidemic of mental illness is in no way confined to the music industry. Rather, what’s happening in the arts is a microcosm of a global trend. Sadly, the failure of the Irish healthcare system to manage mental illness – encompassing years-long waiting lists – is a huge problem in itself. As this Hot Press special report conveys, it’s a complex and multifaceted subject, covering everything from Traveller suicide rates due to marginalisation; difficulties facing the LGBTQ+ community; ever-increasing depression rates since the Covid-19 pandemic began (a shocking 55% of young Irish women in particular have dealt with this); and general issues with wellbeing and stress, since the cost-of-living and housing crises reached appalling new levels.
Inevitably, there was a significant push from NGOs and the public for an improved mental health system ahead of Budget 2023. Minister for Mental Health and Older People, Mary Butler, announced €72.8 million of funding for services, “bringing the total investment for mental health to over €1.2 billion”. The money will “underpin implementation of Sharing the Vision and Connecting for Life and Sláintecare, representing the largest Mental Health Budget in the history of the State, for the third year in a row,” Minister Butler stated.
We’ll see how that works out. For now, the waiting lists for services have not subsided since these “record” budgets over the past three years, despite the emergency in mental health. When we dig a little deeper, Budget expenditure on mental health was 5.8% in 2021, 5.6% in 2022 and now 5.1% in 2023. In comparison, most European countries commonly spend 10%. Sláintecare itself called for 10% spend, as the internationally recognised benchmark.
DUTY OF CARE
In this mental health special, we further investigate the subject of Traveller suicide, speaking to Senator Eileen Flynn; analyse the moves other European nations are making in terms of the treatment for mental health issues; offer tips on wellbeing; platform the LGBTQ+ community; and spotlight the situation in Limerick. There’s no end to the list of improvements Ireland needs to make, with the problems of inflation, housing, the energy crisis, the climate catastrophe and the living crisis fanning the flames.
Supports for community and voluntary organisations providing drug and alcohol services, reduced waiting lists for access to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) – plus clinical programmes for eating disorders, early intervention in psychosis, ADHD and self-harm – are only a fraction of the areas that need immense work. More beds, less stigma and a drastically reduced waiting time need particularly urgent attention.
Budget 2023 is comprised of stats and numbers, many of which make positive headlines, but do not necessarily translate into transparent action. Mental Health Reform CEO, Róisín Clarke, last week asked the Government for greater clarity in how the mental health budget will be spent. In 2019 and 2020, no new funding was allocated for the development of eating disorder services, for example.
In 2018, the National Clinical Programme for Eating Disorders promised sixteen specialist eating disorder teams over five years. To date, there are just three specialist teams. Another issue is the lack of psychiatrists and psychologists filling vacancies, presumably due to pay discrepancies and an inability to carry out years of expensive training – paralleling the massive number of consultants and nurses leaving Ireland for better pay and conditions.
The State has a duty of care to its citizens. Be it the Government’s non-holistic management of mental or physical health, Ireland is failing that test. There’s a long road ahead, but change is hopefully on the horizon, especially when we emphasise the attitudes of younger generations. Demanding better will save lives.
Stayed tuned to hotpress.com over the coming days and weeks for contributions to this special feature from Louize Carroll, Bressie, Sharyn Ward, Michael Conlan, Hermitage Green's Dan Murphy, Trick Mist, Malaki, Karen Cowley, Senator Eileen Flynn and more.
You can also read the full Hot Press Mental Health Special now in the current issue of Hot Press