BIGSOUND: Aussie Biggest Music Conference Discussed Musicians Mental Health and Substance Abuse


Substance abuse and the mental health of musicians will be front and center of discussions at Australia’s biggest music conference this week, in the hopes of getting musos to open up about their experience with drugs.

Jenny Valentish

A panel titled Health, Drugs and Rock’n’Roll will be held at BIGSOUND in Brisbane and include author Jenny Valentish and hip-hop artist 360.

“There’s a lot of stigma around mental health and substance abuse,” Valentish said ahead of the panel.

“But it’s hard for musicians right now. Many are not only the artist but they are the manager, the tour manager, the marketing manager and the PR person.

“Often they’re organizing their own support bands and are responsible for their support bands, so they’re fending off collapse all the time.”

Valentish speaks from first-hand experience.

Her book, Woman of Substances: A Journey Into Addiction and Treatment, reflects on her own experience with drug addiction.

In it she details how she started drinking at age 13, using drugs in her late teens and early 20s, and by 34 had lived most of her life addicted to substances.

“I had to take a back step [from the music scene] and withdraw a little to get my footing right in the early days.

“What happens when you quit alcohol and drugs are your body goes nuts, which not many people know about.

“You need to take time to get self-care going before getting back into the scene.”

Valentish said people’s resilience was “constantly eroded” in the music industry.

“You’re applying for grants or things and you’re constantly having to hustle — this creates a real risk factor for substance abuse.

“It’s also difficult for musicians when touring as you can’t keep any sense of structure.

“To maintain well-being you need that routine.”

Valentish said throwing stimulants and drugs into the mix could push musicians to psychosis.

“It can take the form of being paranoid or isolated from your touring mates and possibly having visual hallucinations,” she said.

“The way most people cope with it, when they don’t have a doctor on call, would be to use alcohol and sedatives.

“It becomes a rollercoaster of trying to medicate oneself and play amateur alchemy.”

Valentish said solutions needed to be talked about within the industry and she welcomed the opportunity to be on the panel.

“I think within the music scene we’re getting more and more conversations about mental health, so we’re heading in the right direction.”