‘We Can’t Have All Our Artists Die’: How the Music Industry Is Fighting the Mental-Health Crisis

 

Musicians suffer from addiction and mental-health issues at an alarming rate. But with a new wave of initiatives and organizations seeking to help, the industry is taking action like never before.

 

In 2009, Anders Osborne found himself at rock bottom. He was bankrupt, his house was in foreclosure, his wife had kicked him out, and he couldn’t see his two young kids. His livelihood was playing gigs, but he couldn’t even do that — he’d often show up too drunk or high to perform. “For close to a year, I’d [either] try to find a friend’s couch to sleep on [or] I lived in the park,” says Osborne, a New Orleans-based singer-songwriter who’s collaborated with everyone from Phil Lesh to Tim McGraw. “I ruined everything.”

Osborne, then 42, was eight years into his latest struggle with substance abuse and mental illness, which manifested in psychotic episodes and hallucinations. “The bipolar tendencies, like staying up for days and days, flourished in my addiction,” he says. “I’d make these dramatic changes from, like, Tuesday night to Wednesday morning, and before you know it, I’m hitchhiking somewhere in the middle of nowhere.”

 

Osborne’s story isn’t new. Every generation has its share of musicians — from Charlie Parker and Janis Joplin to Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse — who’ve battled addiction and mental illness. (The two are closely linked; according to national data, about half of people who suffer from mental illness will also experience substance abuse during their lives.)  

 

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