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November 1, 2020IM -
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted more aspects of the music industry than just recording and performing; it has also interrupted a scientific study aimed at better understanding and therefore treating mental health issues affecting touring musicians. After six months on hiatus, however, the Tour Health Research Initiative recently restarted collecting data through its online survey, seeking input from musicians in every genre of touring—from theatre to classical to rock, folk, and more. Results are expected to be announced in spring 2021.
“We know touring has adverse impacts on people who do it for a living, and I hope that by the end of analyzing all the data we will be able to understand what the key factors are that challenge and impact musicians’ mental health—what drives that,” says Dr. Chayim Newman, clinical psychologist and co-founder of the Tour Health Research Initiative (THRIV). “This will then allow us to be able to help people tour in a healthier way, where there can be less burnout, fewer people struggling with substance abuse, and lower levels of depression and anxiety; and then touring becomes a much more appealing thing to do in the long term.”
The Tour Health Research Initiative is a comprehensive scientific study among touring professionals. Its intent is to use scientific research and a data-driven approach to attempt to gather and analyze detailed information about the nuances of what impacts the health and mental health of touring professionals. The Touring Health & Wellness Survey is the first phase of the Tour Health Research Initiative.
Newman co-founded THRIV due to a lifelong involvement in and passion for the music industry, which synced up perfectly with his clinical training and experience addressing the mental health issues that affect members of that industry. “Touring musicians are two things: They’re touring musicians, and they’re humans,” Newman says. As a human, they struggle with the same fundamental struggles we all deal with, such as vulnerability, insecurity, anxiety, relationship issues, or substance abuse problems, and then they have a host of challenges unique to their career such as the destabilizing effects of sleeping on a tour bus, being judged and evaluated every night, having no sense of home, working erratic hours, and having perhaps unreliable incomes.
In an effort to reach and hopefully help more people in the music industry, Newman gathered a small team of psychologists, researchers, and touring professionals and together they created THRIV in mid-2019. They released the health and wellness survey in February 2020. The survey asks 239 questions about life on tour, interpersonal relationships, working environment, health behaviors, physical and mental health, finances, and home life.
The survey ran for five weeks before the onslaught of the COVID pandemic put it on hiatus. However, in that time there were around 1,000 responses, Newman says. Those responses will be added to the responses received between now and the end of the year, and the two cohorts—one pre-COVID and one during COVID—will then be combined and compared.
Obviously, with live performances canceled for the past seven months, touring musicians are not necessarily facing their typical stressors—but the pandemic has caused new or different health issues to deal with, Newman observes. He has found that his clients are suffering from the anxiety of things such as the loss of income, the loss of their social world, or a loss of stimulation in their everyday lives. “One of the most damaging pieces about [the pandemic] is the isolation,” Newman says. “A lot of artists I know are struggling with a loss of their social world.” They are not with their touring “family” of band and crew, there are no crowds to play to and interact with every night, there are no constantly changing destinations or experiences. “Now, all of a sudden, they are stuck in their house doing the same thing every single day. There’s this crash—which happens to touring artists anyway when they come off tour—when they come back home and there is suddenly much less stimulation available,” he says.
Another major issue touring musicians are dealing with is a loss of their sense of purpose. “What do you do when your raison d’etre is taken away from you, along with the uncertainty of not knowing when it’s coming back?” he says. “The aimless nature of it for artists right now is really crushing.”
So, while touring may be on hold, the issues that touring musicians face are still present. Newman works with clients through his private practice, and he is the primary clinical advisor to Backline, a nonprofit that brings mental health and wellness resources specifically to music industry professionals and their families. He is also the creator and co-facilitator of the weekly Come Together music industry online support groups. Newman says he encourages musicians seeking assistance who may have limited finances right now to contact non-profit organizations like Backline (backline.care) and find support groups that offer people a safe space to talk about their emotional experiences and receive support.
Newman also encourages people to take the THRIV survey because doing so can positively affect someone’s mental health by causing them to consider issues that they had not thought about previously.
“Ultimately, if we can reduce the depression and anxiety and prevent even one suicide of an artist or crew member, we will have certainly done our job,” Newman says.
For more information about the Tour Health Research Initiative, and to participate in the health and wellness survey, visit the website at www.tourhealth.org.