Landmark Gift Launches Groundbreaking
Musician Mental Health Program
Visionary J & W Murphy Foundation support prepares gifted NYO Canada Musicians for the rigors of professional musicianship

NYO Canada is poised to launch a first-of-its-kind musician mental health training program as part of its annual summer institute at Wilfred Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario commencing in late June.

Each year, NYO Canada selects 100 of Canada’s best and brightest young musicians aged 16 – 28 to attend a 5-week residential training institute with world-renowned faculty, under the baton of a world-leading conductor. This year, however, thanks to a $150,000 three-year gift from Halifax’s J & W Murphy Foundation, musicians will also receive comprehensive workshops and training in musician mental health, including performance anxiety, the mental rigors of touring, identifying symptoms of depression and anxiety, and other specialized challenges related to musician mental health. They will also be joined at the session and on tour by professional therapist Dr. John McMillan from Musicians Clinics of Canada, as well as receiving targeted training modules designed by Matthew Edridge of the Al & Malka Green Artists' Health Centre at Toronto Western Hospital.

“Young people everywhere are facing increasing stress, and mental health is a vital part of self-management and success in any endeavour,” said NYO Canada Executive Director Barbara Smith. ““But in the world of professional music, competition is fierce, demands are high, expectations off the chart, and the professional environment can be physically and emotionally grueling. At NYO Canada, we are not just teaching young people to play to professional standards, but are committed to training the whole musician. Just like professional athletes, preparing to perform at the highest levels means not only mastering the physical and artistic rigors of professional musicianship, but the mental self care and wellness aspects as well.”

“Because NYO Canada is a training orchestra, people think the experience is fun and stress-free. Once accepted to the orchestra, many expect that – for a hopeful young musician wishing to pursue their dreams - the stress would be over,” said Dr. John McMillan of Musicians Clinics of Canada. “But for some students who have been gifted and high-achieving all their lives, the stress is just beginning as they face the rigors of a professional training institute under the baton of a world-renowned conductor, and encounter the demands of touring for the first time.”

NYO Canada students – selected from among 500 of the most talented young musicians in the nation – are gifted. Most have extremely high expectations for success, and have spent a lifetime preparing, at great personal and sometimes family expense – to be the best.


  • Musicians, like professional athletes, constantly battle physical pain associated with extreme stress on the body
  • They have an 84 % lifetime prevalence of injury, and a 50/50 chance they’re playing hurt or injured
  • Performing musicians are 3 times more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression compared to the general public
  • Exhaustion, performance pressure, difficulty making a living, lack of recognition for one’s work, parental pressure and the welding of music and identity into the idea of selfhood often compounds mental health issues
  • The physical and mental strain of a young musician’s first tour can occasionally trigger latent, previously buried or unrecognized childhood traumas; mental health services on the tour are vitally needed for such eventualities

“More than 40 per cent of the professional musicians playing in Canadian orchestras are NYO alumni,” explains Lisa Murphy from the J & W Murphy Foundation. “Clearly, professional musicians need a container to manage their health and wellness, but until now, few have been willing to break the silence. We hope this program will break the stigma early, help young people learn the skills of mental wellness, and that the training they will now receive at NYO will impact their ability to thrive and excel for a lifetime.”

About NYO Canada

Created in 1960 by noted conductor Walter Susskind, NYO Canada is dedicated to the identification and training of young classical musicians 16 to 28. Over its 58 years, the NYO has evolved into an internationally recognized incubator for young orchestral musicians and is now one of the most elite youth orchestras in the world. Alumni form the core of major Canadian orchestras and are also prominent internationally. Today, more than 40 per cent of Canadian professional orchestral musicians are NYO alumni, and there are 3,000 alumni worldwide.

About the J & W Murphy Foundation

Founded in 2008 by Bill and Janet Murphy (Liverpool NS) as a vehicle for their family’s charitable giving, the J & W Murphy Foundation’s areas of support include the arts, community, health and education, including projects that advance preventative mental health efforts

About Musicians’ Clinics of Canada

Founded in 1985 and based in Toronto and Hamilton, the Musicians’ Clinics of Canada has served thousands of performing artists with state of the art assessment, treatment, and products.

About the Al & Malka Green Artists’ Health Centre

The Al & Malka Green Artists’ Health Centre offers both medical and complementary care to professional and performing artists and to students and staff at post-secondary arts institutions. Their specialized practitioners focus on the specific health care issues and needs of artists, providing a holistic approach to health.

Fast Facts:

The $150,000 J & W Murphy Foundation gift will fund a pilot program for 3 years; additional funds are being sought to incorporate a formal research component.

Students in the 2018 orchestra will be the first to receive specially-designed training modules and to receive one-on-one coaching from a mental health professional throughout the tour. This is the first program of its kind in the world, and it is hoped the three-year pilot will establish best practises which can be shared with other youth orchestras around the world.

All across North America, demand for youth mental health services is exploding, and universities, businesses, and communities are scrambling to act. A recent study of 15 colleges and universities across Canada conducted jointly by the Toronto Star and Ryerson University reports a 344 percent increase in calls to mental health services by people 25 or younger since 2010, and the Canadian Institute for Health Information reports that Hospital Emergency Department visits from children and youth under 24 years of age is up 63 per cent. 

In Canada, hospitalizations for mental health issues among young people rose 67 per cent between 2006 and 2016, and those numbers continue to rise through 2017.

U of T’s downtown campus experienced a 143 per cent increase in students needing special accommodations for debilitating psychiatric issues last year. Psychiatric conditions now account for 56 per cent of all academic accommodations at the country’s largest university

Accommodations for mental health issues at the University of Winnipeg spiked 80 per cent last year, and Trent University and Georgian College’s accommodations for mental health spiked 70 and 80 per cent respectively

A major survey of university students showed that between 2013 and 2016, there was a 50 per cent increase in anxiety, a 47 per cent increase in depression, and an 86 per cent increase in substance abuse. Suicide attempts also rose 47 per cent during that period.