Babyshambles' Dr Adam Ficek shares report on music and mental health: “It's business, but the product is a human … – NME

The musician and psychotherapist tells NME how “musicians keep falling between the cracks of formal structured support systems” – and action is needed
Solo artist, Babyshambles drummer and psychotherapist Adam Ficek has shared his new report into music and mental health – telling NME that “musicians keep falling between the cracks of formal structured support systems”.
“It’s business, but the product is a human being,” read one quote from a musician in the report. Another: “I was asking myself, ‘OK,  am I here because I’m good enough for this? Or am I here because I’m a Black woman and now it’s a trend to have a black woman in a band?’”
A third voice from Ficek’s research ultimately concluded that “It might look like I’m just shouting down a microphone. It might look like they’re just playing a guitar, but with that comes all the stress. You do it one night; fantastic! You’ve got to do it 10 more times now, and with that, comes exhaustion. Do I want to be doing it anymore?”
Ficek – songwriter, solo artist, Roses Kings Castles, Babyshambles member, trained psychotherapist, and consultant and lead facilitator at music and mental health charity TONIC – has this month published his latest research into “professional popular musicians’ experiences of objectification, under-representation, and personal incongruity in the occupational musicking environment”.
“The research was undertaken as a direct result of my own experience in the music industry and the musicians I work with in my clinical practice,” Ficek told NME. “I wanted to provide a platform for other musicians to tell their own stories about mental health and how this is helped or hindered by their various music industry experiences.”

Babyshambles' Adam Ficek, Pete Doherty and Drew McConnell at the 2006 NME Awards (Photo by Dave M. Benett/Getty Images)
Babyshambles’ Adam Ficek, Pete Doherty and Drew McConnell at the 2006 NME Awards (Photo by Dave M. Benett/Getty Images)

Ficek’s research identifies three main areas of concern: the reluctant need to compromise integrity, being misunderstood by the public, and the difficulties of being viewed as a commercial, tokenistic or sexualised object in the music industry.
“The report highlights the unique struggles that musicians often face when carrying out their artistic career pursuits,” he continued. “These findings illustrate the gritty reality that often goes unnoticed or unreported in the music industry and sheds light on the (at times) brutal reality as experienced by the performers themselves.”
His new work also highlights how British musicians struggle with the commercial aspects of the music industry, and how this impacted their mental health – “providing an important voice for a mixed demographic of British musicians with a hope that policy makers and the general public can gain an increased awareness of the human vulnerability that exists within the lives of our favourite artists”.
Ficek added: “My hope is that this report and the others to follow will allow a basic level of understanding surrounding the difficulties these musicians face with a wider provision of mental health services and a move towards a formal duty of care found in other industries.
“Musicians seem to fall between the cracks of formal structured support systems and wellbeing strategies found in other Human Resources departments. This needs to change.”
Read Ficek’s study in full here.

Speaking to NME last year alongside other members of TONIC, Ficek explained the unique occupational hazard that comes with working in music.
“The industry itself is predominantly late nights, there’s an abundance of alcohol,” he said. “There’s the social environment, then there’s the psychological environment of where people have come from with their own wounds and how that interacts with that.
“With popular musicians, they’re often exposed to the more ‘show business’ nature of music, which is sold more on the aesthetic and an ethos of how things look rather than shifting the airwaves of the things that we hear.”
He added: “It’s difficult being an artist, full stop. If you’re a creative then you need to satisfy the need to create. When you try to commodify that in an industry, that makes it even more difficult as you’re trying to generate income.”

A post shared by Tonic Music for Mental Health (@tonicmusicmh)

He also spoke of how the mental health strains of working in music often leads people to “forget why they got into the industry in the first place”, and said that the help provided by Tonic would help them through.
“Music is a difficult place to be because no one really takes responsibility,” he said. “It’s usually a freelance career, so is it the managers, the agents or the musicians themselves who should take responsibility?”
He continued: “We don’t just need to talk about mental health – we need to share the experiences. There’s a large presence on social media saying how talking about mental health has been de-stigmatised, but I don’t believe that’s true – I actually think it gives people the chance to escape more by putting it all out there and running away from it. There’s a huge divide between what’s going on and what’s perceived to be going on.
“There are people doing podcasts on mental health awareness. So what? Having huge key characters like Terry promoting this was important because people can see the authenticity. It’s not just a celebrity saying, ‘I feel really sad, here I am crying on Instagram’. It adds a congruence and practically framed it for what we do. All we really want to do is to get people in touch with people like me, and things like this didn’t used to exist for people like me.”

As mental health charity Mind have reported, research has shown that people working in the music industry are “more prone to mental health problems than the general population”, with “musicians being up to three times more likely to suffer from depression”. Financial pressures, isolation, lifestyle, hectic schedules and addiction are often named as factors.
Recent years have seen the likes of Lewis Capaldi, Sam Fender, Shawn Mendes and Wet Leg all cancel shows while citing mental health as the reason. Another to take themselves off the road was Editors guitarist Justin Lockey, who sat out of the band’s summer 2022 dates due to “struggles with anxiety”. Speaking to NME last year, Lockey hailed the number of services that are now at hand to musicians struggling with mental health and how it’s now “a lot easier to talk this about than it was a decade or two ago”, the musician and writer said he felt that there was “still a stigma”.
“This could end people, and the bottling up on emotion is too old-school,” he said. “The ancient English cliches of ‘get over it’, ‘move on’ or  ‘man up’ are so dangerous. They make people afraid to ask for help. We need to reassess how we do things. The sliding slope of mental illness is very steep. You can get to a very dark place very quickly.”
Lockey added: “I’ve lost a few friends who have taken their own lives over the years, and things could have been so much different. Conversations could have been had, and that bothers me. As much as music is brilliant and life-affirming, it’s not worth more than your health and never will be. What have you got at the end of it?”
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