Australian soprano Greta Bradman is a woman of many passions. Along with her music degree, she also holds a Masters in Psychology, and is an outspoken advocate for the promotion of positive mental health among performing artists.

WORDS BY RACHEL BRUERVILLE | Published in Spotlight: The Arts Wellbeing Collective Magazine, Edition 1

Australian soprano Greta Bradman is a woman of many passions. Along with her music degree, she also holds a Masters in Psychology, and is an outspoken advocate for the promotion of positive mental health among performing artists.

We asked Greta about mental health among music students, the stereotype of the ‘struggling artist’, the Arts Wellbeing Collective in which she’s a member of the Advisory Group, and her personal experiences.

Greta’s entry into the Arts Wellbeing Collective came in April 2016 at Arts Centre Melbourne, through the involvement of Australian psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, with whom a pilot program was being explored.

You officially became involved in the Arts Wellbeing Collective in 2016, after you’d designed some workshops in the area of positive psychology. What’s the Arts Wellbeing Collective all about?

The aim was to offer something that can really transcend just good mental health; something which helps us to flourish and lead purposeful, meaningful lives. That is a big part of working within the performing arts.

Even the famous cases of artists who have struggled with mental health conditions – if you look at when they were at their most productive, it was when they were mentally well, generally.

You have spoken out against the stereotype of the ‘struggling artist’, in which there is a perception that creativity is boosted by mental ill-health. How does this affect an artist’s output?

I know for myself, the part of me that is highly creative is also the part that can be highly ruminative.

Rather than making assumptions around some sort of a straightforward, necessary relationship between psychological problems and creativity, I think there’s a much more exciting, interesting and relevant conversation to be had around how to harness a meaningful life in the performing arts, so that you can live with all your personal idiosyncrasies and channel that in a positive way.

I guess my main point would be that mental health is not some abnormal state, and that we all have it the way we have physical health.

What are some practical ways that you’ve found can be helpful in maintaining mental health and wellbeing? 

I think mindfulness within the performing arts over the next decade will become a really mainstream tool.

Something that the research has shown is that it’s really important for people in the early stages of a performing arts career to equip themselves with tools and strategies that will help them maintain good mental health as they progress through their career.

It’s not really any good thinking, ‘I read once about mindfulness, maybe I’ll give it a go’, when you’re five minutes before stepping on stage. It’s like lifting weights – it will get better with practice.

What’s the research telling us?

There’s been really interesting research in the United States that suggests there is a predictable point in tertiary training among musicians where mental health drops off, around the end of second year. So, it totally negates the idea that people who chose careers in the performing arts are somehow also naturally more predisposed to mental health issues.

This particular study by Zander, Voltmer and Spahn (Health promotion and prevention in higher music education: results of a longitudinal study, Medical Problems of Performing Artists, 2010), found that musicians do not experience significantly higher health problems at the beginning of tertiary study, as compared to non-music students.

However, by the end of their second year of university, ‘music-related symptoms’ that negatively impacted on physical and mental health were found amongst student musicians.

The development of psychological problems, such as performance anxiety, was particularly apparent, and researchers attributed this to performance pressure, high competition and high standards.

The music students were also divided into two groups of consistent demographics; one group had resilience training and the other didn’t.

Results showed that around the end of second year, the music students who had not had the resilience training had a decline in mental health, whereas the mental health of the group who were given the resilience training was actually maintained.


Article first appeared in CutCommon Print Issue 1, 2018. Founded in 2014, CutCommon is an independently run classical and new music magazine with a passion for exposing talent. CutCommon is a proud member of the Arts Wellbeing Collective. Visit cutcommonmag.com

Article republished with permission.