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When Music Hurts: Learning and Spreading Resilience

par Elsa Fortant

At Pan M 360, we’re looking at the health of music and its practitioners through our “When Music Hurts” article series. In this article, our contributor Elsa Fortant looks at distress and resilience in the music business.


GA survey conducted by the Quebec Musicians’ Guild (GMMQ) in 2020 revealed that 57% of musicians were considering changing jobs[1]. After a second complete shutdown, the curtain falls… and for some, never rises again, as we were reminded during Suicide Prevention Week, held from January 30 to February 5. Through the storm and despair, can we identify resilience factors? That’s one of the questions Morgane Bertacco, a doctoral student in neuropsychology at Université de Montréal, is asking. For more than a year, as part of the research program “Musique en temps de pandémie au Québec”[2], she has been conducting a survey of Quebec musicians. It is hoped that this unique project will allow the cultural community and the government to better understand the effects of the pandemic on the mental health of artists.

The music business is fragile, and that’s nothing new. However, the COVID-19 crisis and its management–in other words, the total shutdown of musical activities on two occasions–have exacerbated already precarious working conditions: endangerment of the on-demand or task-based economy model (freelancing, self-employment), job uncertainty, and normalization of unpaid work. One thinks, for example, of the videos of confined musicians that flourished at the beginning of the pandemic and for which the artists were not necessarily paid.

To date, no data exists on the mental health of Canadian musicians. Morgane Bertacco is determined to fill this gap. The young researcher, who was studying performance anxiety, has completely changed her thesis topic to focus on the mental health of musicians in the face of the pandemic. “When I submitted my dissertation proposal in December 2020, the only literature we had on COVID-19 was the early studies that looked at mental health in the general population. We knew that anxiety was starting to seriously rise, depression was starting to seriously rise,” she explains.

As early as 2021, the surveys conducted by the GMMQ and the report with the evocative title “Pour que les arts demeurent vivant[3]“, prepared by the Fédération nationale des communications et de la culture (FNCC) and published in March of the same year, offered us a first glimpse of the gravity of the situation. If it was a question of taking the pulse of the cultural milieu, it was found to be weak: high presence of depressive symptoms, psychological distress among artists, suicidal thoughts among 11% of artists compared to 7% in the Quebec population…

The research conducted by Morgane Bertacco focuses on musicians over the age of 18 residing in Quebec during the pandemic, both students and practicing professionals who meet the GMMQ definition. It is an online questionnaire that covers the themes of depression, anxiety, stress, resilience and well-being. The 160 responses obtained so far will be supplemented by individual interviews. The interest being to be able to compare the results of the study, the team selected those of a British study conducted in 2016 among professional musicians. In that study, it was reported that 71% of musicians have experienced anxiety and panic attacks and 39% had depressive disorders.

“Since it’s an online survey, we’re not allowed to use the tools we would use in a clinic, so we took screening questionnaires that are available to everyone,” says the doctoral student. “We have the PHQ-9 (Patient Health Questionnaire) to screen for the possibility of a depressive disorder and the GAD-7 (Generalized Anxiety Disorder) to screen for a generalized anxiety disorder.”

The goal of this research is also to identify resiliency factors, i.e., the elements that have enabled musicians to cope and bounce back. Until the data analysis is complete, there is a freely available resource published by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, “A Guide to Building Resilience through Self-Care[4]“. A report entitled “Innovation and Resilience in Arts, Culture and Heritage Canada”[5], funded by the Government of Canada, has just been released. It draws on 29 examples of artists and organizations that have innovated to find resilience during the pandemic. This tells us that we are entering solution mode. We also welcome the creation of a Psychosocial Support Fund administered by the Artists’ Foundation, allowing for the financial support of psychological health care up to $850 per person.

“I want to be able to come up with a real solid assessment, with recommendations that I hope to be able to take up with the government to say, if it ever comes back, this is what the musicians went through and this is what they would have liked to have seen put in place,” the student concludes. “I hope to be able to find the resiliency factors that helped the musicians who got through the pandemic the most, so that I can offer a program to the musicians themselves, that they can say to themselves that others were successful because of it.” Let’s not lose hope.

Morgane Bertacco has decided to reopen the survey to get a snapshot of the situation one year later. To participate, just click on this link in French and in English.

If you or someone you know needs help, call1 866 APPELLE (277-3553), 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.


[1]https://ici.radio-canada.ca/nouvelle/1745981/musiciens-pandemie-precarite-sondage-difficulte-financiere-covid-19, consulted February 8, 2022.

[2] Program conducted by the Observatoire interdisciplinaire de création et de recherche en musique (OICRM), in collaboration with the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), the International Laboratory for Brain, Music and Sound Research (BRAMS), the Laboratoire de recherche sur la musique, les émotions et la cognition (MUSEC) and HEC Montréal.

[3]https://fncc.csn.qc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Rapport-Plaidoyer-pour-que-les-arts-demeurent-vivants-Mars-2021.pdf, consulted February 8, 2022.

[4]https://mhfa.ca/sites/default/files/mhfa_self-care_resilience_guide_fre.pdf, consulted February 8, 2022.

[5]https://hillstrategies.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/innovation_resilience_rapport_complet2022-1.pdf?fbclid=IwAR0OGvaegmhhRgITA2YQtUeBLk98OHyWgZsx1PsTje1uXllPV2Z712GA77E, consulted February 9, 2022.

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