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Professional performing artists are often faced with significant occupational challenges throughout their studies and subsequent careers which can in turn lead to a number of psychological and health issues. 
It is well documented that professional musicians experience a range of mental health issues due to the psychologically demanding nature of their profession (e.g., Pecen, Collins, & MacNamara, 2016; Perkins et al., 2017; Van Fenema & Van Geel, 2014). 
Professional dancers and actors constitute two other groups that are also at risk of developing mental health issues (Grove, Main & Sharp, 2013; Maxwell, Seton, & Szabo, 2015; Laws & Apps, 2005; Robb & Due, 2018; Robb, Due, & Venning, 2016; Schmidt et al., 2015).
In 2019, the Department of Applied Psychology and the Royal Conservatoire of the Antwerp University College (AP Hogeschool) started a research collaboration. The goal of this research project was to perform a qualitative, in-depth investigation of the various shared mental health challenges that professional musicians, dancers and actors face in their studies and subsequent careers.




The current study shows that performing artists are confronted with a plethora of mental health challenges in their studies and careers which may increase their chances of developing mental health issues. Therefore, conservatories and professional organizations within the fields of music, dance and drama should increase their focus on the mental health and well-being of their students and working professionals. One possibility to do so is by actively promoting psychological resilience among performing artists through prevention programs in conservatories and artistic organisations.

Phase 1: literature study


Phase 2: exploratory interviews


  • Exploratory interviews were performed with a small selection of experienced performing artists.
  • The results were used to construct a semi-structured interview guide, to be used for primary data collection.


Phase 3: primary data collection (semi-structured interviews with professional musicians, dancers and actors)


  • Exploratory interviews were performed with a small selection of experienced performing artists.
  • The results were used to construct a semi-structured interview guide, to be used for primary data collection.


Phase 4: mixed focus group (further elaboration on main themes from semi-structured interviews)


  • Exploratory interviews were performed with a small selection of experienced performing artists.
  • The results were used to construct a semi-structured interview guide, to be used for primary data collection.


Phase 5: data analysis


  • Inductive content analysis was used to derive the most prevalent themes from the interview and focus group transcripts
  • The results were used to inform the development of the multidisciplinary prevention program


Research Project

"I did so many productions for very little pay. I thought to myself: if I just do this one job, people won't forget me and I can stay in rotation for future jobs with better pay. However, ultimately you just end up working very hard all the time for very little money."

"The thing is: even though we're all friends and hanging out with each other, we still all want that one perfect job. There's a lot of camaraderie but in the end we're all fending for ourselves and in that respect it's very difficult to be vulnerable and talk openly about mental health."

“I get the impression that a lot of artists don’t talk about their problems. I’m not sure if it’s really taboo but everyone seems to deal with their issues privately and just do what is expected from them without complaining too much. The thing is, if you’re afraid to talk about your problems, things often get worse."

Regarding friends and family, not everyone understands that as an artists you often have to work weekends and at night. People sometimes hold it against you that it’s difficult for you to attend  social events.”

“Part of the problem is that, when there’s a vacancy for one position in an orchestra, there are over 150 applicants from all over Europe, creating an enormous competition for that one spot.”

"I had to undergo surgery where they put a steel plate and bolts in my arm. I had to rehabilitate for a year but in the meantime I was still involved in productions that had to keep going. So 14 days after the surgery I was already back on the stage."

You never really get used to the pressure and anxiety of being on stage and it can get worse with ageing; although the quality always has to perfect, your body and physical attributes steadily deteriorate when getting older.”

"I regularly have to justify myself towards my family who are not artists. It's very difficult to explain to them that this type of career is very hard work and not just a hobby."

"It's a feeling I remember very well from my conservatory years. Before every performance I used to get extreme performance anxiety: I started feeling sick, started to sweat like crazy... It got to a point where I asked myself: why am I doing this? This has got to stop because it's not fun anymore."

"In many cases you can't afford to make any mistakes. Everything has to be as perfect as possible. People are very quick to judge... there are so many people in the audience, everyone with their own opinions. I quickly get a sense of guilt when I make a mistake, as if I messed things up completely."

"At one point I was dancing in three different companies at the same time. Eventually I got so exhausted that my body couldn't handle it anymore and started to break down. I had no energy and no connection with my body whatsoever. In the end, I had to seek medical attention over an extended period of time in order to get well again."

"It's all about hierarchy. It already starts at the audition process: you're standing there almost naked, like a piece of meat. Then you're hired but you're not entitled to your own opinion. It often takes years until you're allowed to say something for yourself. People take advantage of the fact that you're scared of being fired and thus will agree to almost anything."

“Combining all my job appointments is often hard. My main appointment is often not flexible and I have to attend a lot of meetings. On top of that I have to study my scores and constantly make adjustments to my schedule in order to fit in new projects. I’m occupied with my job almost 24/7.”

Results showed that common mental health challenges between musicians, dancers and actors could be broadly grouped into three main categories: psychological challenges, environmental challenges and physical challenges.

Supplementary Literature


Needs for external support

Participating artists were also asked about their needs and wishes with regards to external support which resulted in the following broad themes:


Prevention: participants considered active prevention as key for maintaining their psychological health and well-being within the working field and strongly encouraged initiatives in this regard.


Education: receiving basic psycho-education about mental health in conservatories and artistic organizations was deemed desirable by most participants. In addition, participants indicated a wish to be sensitized about the various mental health challenges that are prevalent in the workfield for performing artists


Specialized psychological support: participants also indicated the a broad need for psychologists and therapists who specialize in working with performing artists and who are in touch with the specific challenges of the performing arts industry


Safety nets within artistic organizations: finally, participants also indicated the need for more safety nets within professional artistic organizations with respect to mental health issues, providing a safe and confidential space to express such issues.


Results (summary)



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