“Not many people would start a business during the pandemic,” Rachel Jepson said. “But it was the pandemic that made me realise that a space dedicated for musician’s mental health was needed more than ever.” The Centre for Mental Health in The Music Industry opened it’s door in April 2021, it’s founder Rachael was spurred on to do so by the devastating impact of the pandemic lockdowns on the music industry and the people working in it.
At the height of the pandemic, the BBC reported that research carried out by the Musicians Union, found:
“70% of members have lost more than three-quarters of their regular work during the lockdown, leaving many in financial hardship. Freelance musicians, who make up 72% of the sector, are particularly affected. Almost half of them are not eligible for grants under the government’s current self-employed income support scheme”
The centre has 10 therapists that use the space on a regular basis. All the therapy is tailored to the individuals needs and the centre offers holistic singing classes, art therapy, and cognitive behavioural therapy. “We’re finding that people are craving to meet face to face.” Rachel said, “they want that feeling of leaving the house and coming home again. It’s important for their mental health.” Rachel said that her therapy is always person led. She never offers advice, and lets people work out their thoughts with her guidance. They explore themes together and try and tie in recurring tropes.
The centre also does reconciliation therapy with bands. “Sometimes bands get down the road and realise they’ve wanted different things from the beginning,” Rachel said. “A group of people that spend so long together can sometimes forget to communicate properly.”
Rachel Jepson started singing professionally at 17 when she performed in London with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra. She has always been in bands and has trained as a psychotherapist. “It’s important for me that the two are linked. I think people who understand what it is like to be a musician can help others in the same situation,” she said. Rachel hosted Mind over Music on Reform Radio, and she has been nominated for the Women in Music Award for her work with musicians in mental health.
“Music is heavily linked to a person’s identity,” Rachel said. The idea that musicians and people in other creative industries should retrain, as suggested by chancellor Rishi Sunak, Rachel found outrageous. In October 2020 more than 400 musicians played their instruments in protest outside of Parliament. This sparked discussions within the government that something drastic needed to be done.
So here we are with lockdown ended but Covid still very much with us, and musicians will be playing to audiences flooding back into stadiums, concert halls and intimate venues again. “The anxiety of bringing people together again is a real concern for the artists that I speak to,” Rachel said, and referred to the guilt that musicians are feeling. They are the ones asking people to put themselves and loved ones in danger by attending the gigs. The crews they use are working again in close quarters and spending time away from their families.
Paulette Bayley, who has attended a course at the centre and is a violinist for the Hallé said: “I felt very anxious before returning to work. Not only because of the possibility of being amongst people after months of isolation but also because I had lost confidence in playing my instrument. The warmth of the reception we have received from the returning audiences has, for me, been emotionally overwhelming.”
Rachel has noticed that over the years she is finding more people are talking about mental health within the music business. She finds that the bigger, more established, companies are better at helping their talent. The pressure on some artists is still there. A lot of the work that Rachel does with her clients is listening to what they are going through, reassuring them that if they feel that things are wrong, they probably are and to give them the confidence to do something about it. “Some musicians struggle with either, living their best life on tour, or not, but then trying to slot back into to home life.”
Musicians’ lifestyles can be dramatically different to someone who may work a 9-5 job, Rachel explained, describing it as a “portfolio lifestyle” which involves ad-hoc work hours, travel away from home on a regular basis and a reliance on their own skills to organise their work schedules. This irregular lifestyle can have a huge impact on musicians mental health.
Rachel wrote a book in 2017 called Mental Health in the Music Industry – all the proceeds of this book go back to music charities. In the book, Rachel talks of the 12 key issues that might factor in mental health struggles. Some of these factors could be stage fright, addiction, life on tour and discrimination. Rachel is happy that the conversations have started to take place but hopes that more can be done in the future.
Along with a fellow psychotherapist, Adam Ficek, Rachel has set up a free online database called Therapy by Musicians for therapists that also have music experience. “We think it’s really important that we are treating people in the music business with the knowledge and experience we’ve got.”
Therapy by Musicians database – click here
The Centre for Mental Health in the Music Industry – click here
Mental Health in the Music Industry (book) – click here
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Featured image: Judith Suckling