Analysis March 2022: Food for thought

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One consequence of the Covid pandemic has been a rise in mental health issues in many industry sectors. How have violin makers been affected – and what support is there for them? By Peter Somerford

In lutherie, as in other professions, there has been a tendency to acknowledge and discuss the physical demands of the craft but overlook the mental health challenges of the occupation. No one can ignore the population-level mental health impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, however. A study published by The Lancet in October 2021 estimated that in 2020 major depressive disorder and anxiety disorders increased in prevalance globally by around 25 per cent on pre-pandemic levels, and together caused nearly 95 million disability-adjusted life years, or years lost due to ill health, disability or early death (bit.ly/3rf4Xc7).

During the pandemic, luthiers have lost the social and educational sustenance of trade events, conventions, competitions and courses, and some makers have lost income, clients or commissions. But setting aside these situational risks to mental well-being, violin making as a profession has inherent mental health challenges that should not be underestimated, suggests Wai Yong Tham, a luthier in Singapore who worked as a consultant psychiatrist before setting up her workshop in 2017: ‘Remaining mentally healthy in lutherie is not for the faint-hearted. The risk factors include a preponderance of perfectionism and obsessional traits; social isolation, which has been worsened by Covid; and a lack of margin for error when working on “high-profile” instruments, or your own instruments in the closing stages, where an error can erase a month’s worth of work. When finishing an instrument, sometimes our mistakes are all we see, even though others can’t. Financial stress is another independent risk factor on top of these other concerns.’…

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