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BELLY OF THE BEAST: MENTAL HEALTH AND THE MUSIC INDUSTRY

Shipwrecked by Aminah Hughes
Shipwrecked by Aminah Hughes

A few months ago, I was sitting in a hotel room in Sydney watching a line of hand-washed, homemade face masks drying in the breeze across the balcony and back home in Perth I was pretty sure I’d left a shoe in the bathtub. This was neither where I expected to be, nor what I expected to be doing in September 2020. I should have been in LA on a reconnaissance mission of meetings and Mai Tais on Venice Beach but as John Lennon once famously said, “Life is what happens while you’re making other plans.”

For those who aren’t aware, every year in the music industry is a tumultuous year. As artists ride the perpetual rollercoaster of what I call Life in the Arts Lane (We got the recording grant but our drummer’s back in rehab / We were about to tour the album but the band broke up / We’re all set for the show but our gear was stolen / We made the record but have no money to put it out … and yes, I’ve experienced all of these and more), we are nothing if not resilient, adaptable, fierce. But there are times – too many times if the number of people contacting me for this article is anything to go by – when it all gets too much and we just feel like giving up.

Back in March, I had gotten sick. I didn’t realise how sick, until I was lying in a hospital bed being told that a virus was attacking my respiratory system. I’d been brought in by ambulance, unable to breathe. It was one of the scariest experiences of my life. And I’ve had pneumonia. Twice. Under Western Australian State Government policy at the time, I wasn’t allowed to be tested for COVID-19 because I hadn’t recently travelled overseas. Ordered not to leave my house for a month, I was sick for two. I lost my job and with it my confidence in the safety of the outside world. What followed was several months of fatigue, fog and other symptoms of an illness that refused to leave my body until it was good and ready. I watched from a distance as musician friends, spurred on by a lift in restrictions, raced out to greet each other in rehearsal rooms, houses and, eventually, live gigs. I couldn’t bring myself to join them. I can’t properly explain what not being able to breathe does to you. As friends in Europe and the States started to become ill with COVID-19 and told me stories of what was happening around them in Italy, Texas and Brooklyn, I became even less inclined to leave my courtyard.

I’d been talking with a friend in France, Breton flute player Sylvain Barou. His best friend had been hospitalised and, after two weeks on a ventilator and in an induced coma, he passed away. A composer and master guitarist, he left behind a legacy of some of the most beautiful music I’ve ever heard. His name was Jacques Pellen. Sylvain describes him as, “one of the best guitar players on this planet. His music is from another world.  We all learned so much playing with him.”

Recently returned to the countryside from Paris, Sylvain had experienced life as a performer in a COVID climate, where musicians could play but masks were still mandatory. It was a strange new world.

While I was still in recovery from my mystery virus, a friend in New York lost someone to suicide. Then another friend was gone to the same fate. In August, I spent the night sitting in a third friend’s dishevelled apartment, doing my best to talk her out of taking her own life. It’s a conversation I’ve had many times with various people over the years but this time, feeling out of my depth, I made the call to get mental health services involved. It wasn’t a decision I took lightly. Many years ago, a fellow songwriter who had made contact with the same clinic claimed her experiences inside the ward had made her feel worse and subsequently took her own life. We’d been working on different verses of the same song – she heard me sing my version at an intimate women’s performance night; I never got to hear hers. I didn’t want my current friend to come to the same fate, but I knew I needed back-up so I made the call. All of the people mentioned in this paragraph actively work(ed) in the music industry.

The healing power of music on the brain is clinically proven. So perhaps it’s a surprising fact that a 2018 US study conducted by The Music Industry Research Association (MIRA), in partnership with the Princeton University Survey Research Center and the Recording Academy’s MusiCares initiative, found that musicians, when compared with the general population, face much higher rates of discrimination, sexual harassment, mental health issues, alcohol and illicit substance abuse, are twice as likely to suffer from depression and four times as likely to struggle with suicidal ideation.

We, as an industry, need to talk about this.

THE BIG DRINK

In May, not coping with financial and emotional pressures brought on by lockdown and the added workload involved in keeping his family’s music school afloat, prominent Western Australian musician, Richard Lane, took his own life. At first, wife, Cathy Gavranich, kept the fact of his suicide a private matter, but says, “Since I was able to bring myself to post about what actually happened, I’ve had seven people tell me that I saved their life, just by talking about it – all of them musicians and, all but one, parents.”

Richard and Cathy’s daughter endured Father’s Day and her birthday within a week of each other – the beginning of many firsts. “Kids are more able to use their imagination to escape,” Cathy says, “I was watching the kids play and I felt like there was a hole next to me where Richard usually sits and it felt like it went down into the centre of the earth. We can ignore my birthday but you can’t cancel a little kid’s birthday.”

Since Richard’s alcohol-related death, Cathy has become a strong advocate for change in the music industry around the promotion and misuse of alcohol. “I’ve found festivals to be the most blatant of them all. Everywhere you look, there’s alcohol advertising. It’s so in your face and highly targeted to young audiences and young musicians.” Friend and venue operator, Lisa Pensabene, agrees. “It’s not the booze that creates the atmosphere, yet venues that once upon a time were for the arts are now beer barns that host musicians,” she says. “The younger generation know no different.  Musicians and artists have become employees of the alcohol industry.”

It wasn’t always this way. Perth Reggae DJ, General Justice, says that when he first got into the UK music scene in the 60s, “all the best clubs didn’t have a liquor license and it wasn’t hip to drink alcohol,” though he adds, “there were better drugs to be had.” He lists venues in Manchester and London, Leeds and Sheffield and says, “None of them sold alcohol, yet they were the places that the Stones, Yardbirds, The Who, etc. all played, along with touring American acts.” He suggests a return to the non-alcoholic gigs once played in schools and town halls by bands like the Easy Beats, though local sound engineer, Rik van der Velde, acknowledges the logistical and security issues these gigs posed, such as kids sneaking in flasks of liquor and climbing in through toilet windows.

Cathy would like to see warning labels on alcoholic products, as well as advertising campaigns linking alcohol to suicide, depression, addiction and road accidents. “With mental illness sky rocketing, it’s high time for those who are profiteering from alcohol sales to have to do the right thing,” she says, “Music venues have a lot to answer for when it comes to enabling alcohol dependency.” Indeed, in no other industry are people provided with alcohol while they work. It’s a culture, says Cathy, “that leads to the normalisation of substance abuse as a musician’s lifestyle and coping mechanism.”

In Australia, I’m told tales of men emptying beer cans and secretly filling them with water so their mates will stop hassling them to drink, of a touring musician who tells friends and patrons he can’t (rather than doesn’t) drink, so people will assume he has some kind of condition excusing him. It’s this kind of social pressure that can lead to destructive behaviour and even death.

When Scott Weiland of the Stone Temple Pilots tragically overdosed while on tour in 2015, ex-wife Mary penned a letter in Rolling Stone Magazine just days later, urging fans and former bandmates not to glorify his death, nor his ongoing struggles with addiction. “What actually belongs in a hospital is now considered art,” she wrote, “Let’s choose to make this the first time we don’t glorify this tragedy with talk of rock and roll and the demons that, by the way, don’t have to come with it.”

It’s a culture that weighs heavily on the minds of responsible music industry practitioners on the business side of the fence. Nashville-based counsellor and former PR Consultant, Veronica Chambers believes it’s a manager’s job to look after their artists and that includes their mental health. Husband, Nash Chambers (producer, manager and brother to Australian country artist, Casey Chambers) has a strict policy on not allowing his artists to drink on stage. Citing the backstage rider culture, Veronica asks, “In what other industry do you need to specify that you don’t want alcohol at work?” She says management is about making sure artists are completely looked after. “You can’t have a career if you’re not healthy both mentally and physically. We’ve been checking in with our artists during COVID and making mental health a part of the conversation.”

ESTABLISHING FRAMEWORKS

While other industries provide gym memberships for employees and organise team building activities, it’s hard to imagine a manager rounding up their artist roster for a day of mini-golf or a record label calling a group of roadies into a circle to perform trust exercises. However, when a company’s bottom line depends upon an artist’s ability to perform, it’s in their best interest to take notice.

“If you know your artist has anxiety and they’re going out on tour, there are frameworks that can be put in place,” Veronica says, “Make sure you check in, make sure they’re not alone, don’t enable an addiction. It’s your job to know when they’re going to get the most anxious. If it’s on the tour bus at 2:30 in the morning, in between cities, far away from home, make sure there’s someone available to answer the phone.”

For most independent musicians, however, having the support of management seems like a faraway dream. We work tirelessly, acting as our own manager, agent, booker, promoter, bank, website and graphic designer, band leader, producer, marketing consultant and tour manager. With limited time and energy, we often have to make the choice between updating a press kit and maintaining a social media calendar, or actually sitting down to play an instrument or write a song. It’s an intense existence that can leave independent artists feeling exhausted, isolated and lonely, particularly on the road.

In 2019, I attended the APRA Roadshow in New York. With sessions in Nashville, LA and London, it was organised by Veronica after the suicide of a friend – a prominent Nashville musician whose death rocked the community. The purpose of the sessions, Veronica says, was to gain perspective on the issues facing practitioners in all facets of the music business and to ask the question, “How can we better serve this industry?”

Making a living in the music business is a process that takes (often a long) time and it’s easy to get frustrated with that process. One thing mental health professionals agree on is that it’s important to keep perspective by welcoming activities, hobbies and even people into your life, that exist outside the industry. In addition, Veronica and Nash believe it’s important for artists to check in with each other. “Artists are the first to give themselves a hard time when things don’t happen fast enough,” Veronica says, “You really need a tribe of people around you who understand you and who share that common knowing of how hard things are.”

Cailin Howarth is a Melbourne-based psychologist with a Masters in Performance Science from the Royal College of Music in London. She’s also a classically trained singer who performed internationally before founding The Performer’s Edge, a coaching service focused on helping arts practitioners to overcome challenges related to anxiety, extreme pressure, perfectionism, motivation and concentration. She believes the industry will be forever changed by the COVID-19 pandemic and says most of her clients last year came to her wanting to expand and diversify their skills sets, to better equip them for the inevitable changes that will come in a post-COVID world.

“Creatives bring something to the world that can’t be replaced by anything else,” she says, “My biggest piece of advice is for them to remember how vital they are. The main thing I’m hearing this year is that performers have realised that the technical side of their craft is strong, but the psychological aspect needs to be developed if they want to survive.” She says it’s important for artists to connect with their unique creative voice and be “unapologetic and confident in embracing it.”

But how can we as arts practitioners learn to truly value ourselves, when we are constantly being undervalued by governments and society?

A September 2019 report published by the Australian Academy of the Humanities revealed that 82.4% of Australians attended cultural venues and events in 2017–18. In 2016-17 the arts contributed $111.7 billion to the Australian economy, a 6.4% cent share of Australia’s Gross Domestic Product (to put it in perspective, aviation contributed $18.42 billion). The arts employ around 600,000 Australians, yet federal arts investment makes up a tiny 1% of our budget.

Successfully gaining a slice of that pie is one of countless hurdles in the creation, release, performance and marketing of new work. And that’s in an average year. When 2020 came knocking, bringing new and unprecedented challenges, for many in the music industry it all became too much. 

A YEAR OF CHALLENGES

In August, Australian guitarist, Jeff Lang, expressed his grief and frustration when he lost three friends in two weeks to suicide. “What are we, as a society, doing wrong, when sweet, intelligent, sensitive men who bring joy and inspiration to others are deciding they can’t go on?” he asked, “It breaks my heart to think of these brilliant people feeling like there’s no option but out for them.”

With two small children to home school, he says that seeing comments from people saying, “Wow, you must be writing and creating so much during this period!” elicits a wry smile. Based in Victoria, he says it’s been interesting feeling the effects of two waves of enforced lockdown. “During the first period it was kind of nice in a way not being able to work. This is by far the longest break from live work I’ve had in over 30 years. I felt an awareness that I was performing as much as anyone, from The Rolling Stones to Lady Gaga, so there was no pressure. But the second lockdown felt like a bit of a plunge back into an unwelcome hole for me. I started wondering if I’d ever work again.”

Surprisingly, he says it’s not the performing he misses most about touring, but the long-distance drives on his own. For many creatives, it’s a balancing act finding the line between much needed alone-time and isolation, and it can give the inner critic plenty of headspace to work its way in. “It’s normal to have that destructive voice chirping away at you,” he says, “Don’t listen to it. Tell it to fuck off. Call a friend. Call someone.”

Fellow Melburnians Vika and Linda Bull agree that the second lockdown felt different. “I’m not a person who suffers from depression,” says Vika, “but I found myself having shitty days and I’d never experienced that before. I couldn’t see my family, play with the band, tour… I got a bit of an understanding of what depression feels like. My sister would call me up and say, ‘I knew something was wrong with you’ and we’d talk and I’d talk to mum every day and our family really helped to lift each other up if we were feeling a bit blue. It’s difficult to get motivated to get up, have a shower and get out but I push myself to do one particular thing each day, even if it’s just a bike ride, and it helps me feel good.”

Linda adds, “We’ve lost some people here recently and it’s hit everybody really hard. I’m a single mum. I’ve gotta look after my kid. I was trying to work out how we would get through, knowing that statistically women would suffer the most. Gospel is one of those genres that responds really well to uncertainty and we completely understood and respected that everyone in the industry was going through a difficult time and some people would retreat instead of step forward. For us, that stepping forward really helped. I’ve reached out to a lot of my friends out of the blue because I could feel that they were alone and a call from home is a great way of saying, I haven’t forgotten you. I think a call to people really helps.”

The Bull sisters’ stepping forward resulted in the release of new album, Sunday (The Gospel According to Iso).

Read Aminah’s interview with the Bull sisters ahead of the release HERE.

But while some are finding ways to connect with community, others have been driven into a deeper state of isolation by the pandemic.

In Boston, founder of Muddy Paw PR, Angela Mastrogiacomo, spent months riddled with anxiety about herself or her loved ones getting sick. She experienced extreme panic attacks, in which she’d find herself “hysterically crying and shaking,” worrying about passing on COVID to her mother or grandmother as an asymptomatic carrier, or even dying. She describes her journey to wellness as a “nightmare” but says that the experience brought to light the things that matter most to her. With a clearer focus on where she wanted to spend her energy, 2020 ultimately became a creatively fruitful time that gave her the push she needed to finally explore areas of her work she’d previously only dreamt of.

LA artist Flux Psyche, who prefers the pronouns ‘they/them,’ writes songs about mental health, living with depression and gender dysphoria. “Since the pandemic, I’ve had to move home,” they say, “It’s been rough, I fight with my family and I don’t have time to myself to create. I miss having my own space in the city I love.” Flux says they are struggling with being away from their community and performing with friends, sentiments that are reflected in new release, ‘In Flux’ (Oh heavy heart / All alone in the dark … Nobody knows / That my heart is breaking).

Around the Sound’s Manager, Ash Lee, coordinates a team of sixty people and communicates daily with music industry professionals around the world. She says anxiety, depression and mental health disorders do not discriminate. “For those who struggle with mental health issues, one of the hardest and bravest things to do is to acknowledge that help is needed and to ask for help. I am not afraid to do this anymore,” she says. In 2020 she started a support group for thirty music industry professionals working in boutique companies. They hold a virtual zoom lunch once a week and check in with each other.

Ash says 80% of the musicians she came into contact with before COVID were working two or more jobs, as well as regularly performing live. They worked on a contract basis in hospitality, construction, retail, sales, trades, teaching and security, in order to fund and accommodate their careers in the arts, and all were struggling financially. “15% of them were in circumstances where they were already homeless or about to become homeless,” she says, “and 60% were living with other musicians who faced similar circumstances.” She says that the COVID era brought new challenges for music industry professionals, including self-management strategies, motivation levels when working at home, poor time management, inability to access resources and having to adjust to new technologies.

With those of us in creative industries battling a heady mix of inspiration versus imposter syndrome, self-belief versus crippling self-doubt, it’s a constant effort to consciously reframe beliefs, refocus thoughts and stay on an even keel so we can continue to create. Throw some 2020 conspiracy theories into the mix and it’s a ticking timebomb.

Perth musician Brian Dunne and his band, Potato Stars, played the day before Western Australia’s brief lockdown. They were launching an album recorded with original bandmate, guitarist Tim Underwood, formerly of The Rosemary Beads. It turned out to be Tim’s last recording, as he passed away shortly afterwards. He had been on a ventilator with pneumonia, which had affected his heart.

“The loss of Tim has been the greatest loss,” says Brian, “He was my best friend for years. He was intrinsic not just to the band but to my life. I guess we’ve got to soldier on, especially as we have a new record out, which I have a lot of faith in (Battle of Wits). It took us two years to make. Tim’s all over it. So, we’ve got to get on with it.”

Looking forward to returning to their flock of faithful followers in Asia, the band were forced to cancel their 2020 tour of Myanmar, Malaysia and Cambodia and instead found themselves playing at Tim’s funeral. “The wake was beautiful,” says Brian, “lots of friends played and bands he used to play in – Norfolk Pines (Tim’s brother, Peter’s band), Red Jezebel, Northern Lights, Gretta from the Rosemary Beads – we played with Tomas Ford, and we kicked arse. We had two members die this year.” He manages a smile, “I wrote a song called COVID-69. I guess we’d better record it before the band all die.”  

SHIFTING FOCUS

Over in New Jersey, Ropeadope Records Label Manager, Cat Stagliano, is tired of musicians’ mental health being a taboo topic and is working to help reduce the stigma. When she talks to me, she is home from university in Philadelphia, where she created Stronger in Harmony. What began as a research project for a music industry business course has since blossomed into a series of virtual panel discussions and wellness workshops around mental health in the entertainment industry.

“I often find myself struggling with anxiety and stress,” she says, “People think our job is cool but they don’t understand what goes on behind closed doors. Gen Z and millennials understand mental health way more than previous generations and I think it’s really important that we nurture that so the generations after us continue to respect each other and be mindful of mental health.”

Not content with raising awareness, she is focused on concrete action that brings positivity, hope and change. She aims to partner up with other universities across the US to broaden the scope of the initiative, with each chapter selling products and hosting concerts, art exhibitions and film festivals, to raise money for those who are struggling.

Find out more about Stronger in Harmony HERE.

Throughout 2020, I witnessed many musicians in my circle suffering a crisis of identity in not being able to perform to a live audience. With full gig and work schedules, for many artists, being out in live venues is also how they socialise. But there’s a pressure that comes with feeling the need to constantly have a full gig list. For some, having that pressure lifted actually provided some relief.

“The pressure we put on ourselves as artists is enormous and for anybody to take that load on board, it’s not healthy,” says UK-based country music artist Zoee, “You think if you’re not doing more than everyone else then you’re not gonna be at the top of the game.” She says there’s a point where artists need to ask themselves if it’s worth putting their mental health at stake because of everybody else’s judgement. With a full schedule of touring in North America and Europe cancelled, she found that the events of last year allowed her to “take a breather, step back and prioritise.” She dedicated the year to writing, recording and releasing new music, filming music videos and connecting with her online audience. This included recording a live song in her living room for a musician friend struggling with suicidal thoughts.

Watch Aminah’s full interview with Zoee on The Lounge HERE.

In Silicon Valley, Californian songwriter, Chris Reed, had spent 14 years building a career as a touring musician and business entrepreneur, taking music programs into schools, before COVID hit. As schools and venues closed, it became clear that he would have no income for an indefinite period. “One morning I woke up and 17 concerts had been cancelled,” Chris says, “By the end of the week, it was 64.” After Chris’ older brother passed away when they were kids, music had become a healing balm to help him process his grief. He had built a life around his passion, family, love and security. When his two young daughters, his wife and then himself became sick with suspected COVID-19, he felt his carefully constructed house of cards start to collapse.

“My wife and I spent all day doing everything we could to ensure our kids were not affected, while we silently freaked out and, not so silently, went in the back bedroom and cried,” he says. “There were reports of children becoming ill with inflammatory Kawasaki disease. My daughter had a bizarre set of pancake-sized hives, from head to toe. My asthma flared up and my cheeks began to itch and burn and would become red for hours. Tests weren’t available. My wife and I resigned ourselves to the fact that we would never know.”

With a record release and summer tour plans cancelled, Chris says it was difficult to get out of bed but he had to, for his children. “Milestones like being invited into the Recording Academy only lifted my spirits for a day or two,” he says, “I was lost. I watched my whole world slip away.”

When he made the decision to start recording at home in a makeshift home-studio, Chris says his joy started to come back. Under the moniker, Sunny State, he released a music video, for his song ‘Human’. It was filmed entirely during California’s Shelter-in-Place order, with contributions from fans.

Recording from home is a common way many musicians have climbed their way out of the depths of depression this year. Chicago Blues Hall of Fame inductee, Michael Charles, says at one point in 2020 he felt suicidal, until he began to reflect on how he could turn this time at home into an opportunity.

“We had a heavy year with a huge schedule and it all got shut down. I went through different stages around it, including anger, and thinking, I guess it’s all over,” Michael says. “When I was on the road I’d complain about things – not having time to get into the studio or do other things. The last fifteen years, I was going through stages where I’d have four or five nights I wasn’t even going to bed, playing four-hour shows, going from one city to another, I wouldn’t even know if I was in Canada or the US. I was just so exhausted. When COVID hit, I was struggling, crying that I wanted to get my job back, but since I changed my attitude, it’s been great.”

Michael says working on a new album without time pressures has given his writing a new dimension. “There’s been a growth to my songwriting because I’m starting to take some chances and do things differently. If you want something good, you’ve gotta put the time in, not just write quickly because you only have two days off the road. I was sitting in a recording session a few weeks ago thinking, this is so cool, just to feel relaxed again. But it took me six months to get there.” With lockdown bringing about his first live feeds for fans, Michael says it’s important for musicians to adapt and that he will never again allow himself to be almost crying from exhaustion when he’s stepping up on stage. “There’s nothing wrong with working hard six days a week and having one day where you stay in your hotel room watching movies,” he says, “When I get back to it, I will take that one day a week off.”

Watch Aminah’s full interview with Michael on The Lounge HERE.

For Melbourne-based songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Michael Saleta, the biggest frustrations of 2020 were cancelled overseas gigs and a delayed move to Nashville. He says for him and his wife, the key was to accept what was out of their control and adapt. He filled his schedule with co-writes, working with songwriters in Australia, the US and Canada and feels more motivated than ever to get over to Nashville and start pitching to publishers.

“It was frustrating at first,” Michael says, “but I had a lot to keep me focused.” A member of various songwriting associations, he jumped into online courses and webinars and worked his way through the exercises in Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way – a bible for many creatives. He cites daily meditation, long beach walks and experimenting with cooking new recipes as helping him to maintain good mental health.

In the spirit of keeping busy, in 2020 Perth music journalist Bob Gordon started a podcast called HiberNation. From rock’n’roll icon Tex Perkins, to TV director Daina Reid, he interviews creatives about how they’re “getting on with things” in the COVID era.

Although the interviews have helped others, Bob says he started the podcast as a form of self-therapy. “Well, it’s helped me at the very least,” he says, “If I get depressed my productivity divebombs and I was conscious of that happening during the quiet time.”

Check out Bob’s interview with Aminah HERE.

BEAUTY, PERFUME AND FILLING THE WELL

As the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to drag well into 2021, what can we focus on, in order to protect our mental health?

The general consensus among the therapists, counsellors and industry coaches who spoke to me was that proper sleep, healthy diet and exercise play a major role in building the resilience needed to maintain good mental health. A common recommendation was having interests and hobbies outside of the music industry in order to maintain perspective, while another area of focus was on the importance of engaging the senses. This could mean literally smelling the roses on a morning walk, placing beautiful images and objects in view, burning essentials oils (I use peppermint for concentration, lavender for calm), eating slowly to savour the taste of food, playing favourite old songs or relaxation music, dancing, snuggling up to a pet or putting on a daily splash of perfume. I received recommendations about giving more time to self-care, lengthening timeframes for projects or tasks and planning to do less in a day.

Important, too, is filling the creative well. That could mean attending a livestream gig, listening to an inspirational talk, reading a great novel, doing an online course or webinar, taking up painting, taking long walks in nature or playing an instrument just for fun. It could also mean starting a new venture. And if that makes you feel nervous, an Irish psychologist tells me that feeling fear (often disguised as imposter syndrome) is simply a side-effect of bravely stepping outside your comfort zone. She says you’d never feel it if you lived a “beige existence” and that it’s important to remember that in a “survive or thrive” situation, survival is the worst-case scenario.

Ellenor Cox is an Emmy and AACTA award winning Film Producer, turned Life Strategist and Professional Mentor to people in creative industries. She talks about having a Role Model Mindset, which calls on us to focus on being the best possible version of ourselves. “Think about when you’re looking back on this period,” she says, “how will you be proud of who you were and what you did in this moment?” Whether you use the time to upskill or to focus on self-care, she says it’s important to ask yourself “how am I contributing kindness?”

She notes that there’s an irony around the fact that so many parts of the world are in lockdown enjoying content, yet many content creators are either struggling financially or simply aren’t getting paid. She has noticed a sense of despondency among her clients around the lack of government support for the arts, despite its contribution to the economy. “People are questioning their career paths,” she says, “Musicians, actors, filmmakers – creatives are used to highly collaborative ways of working, so right now they are really feeling the isolation and lack of connection.” She says it’s important to set an intention for each day, focus on what we can control, replace negative self-talk with compassion and practice focusing on things we’re grateful for, no matter how small.

If you are living with grief in this time, New York Mindset and Productivity Coach Suzanne Paulinski says it’s important to continue to talk about it. In 2020 she experienced losses from both suicide and medical-related deaths, which she talks about in her podcast, The Rock/Star Advocate: Grieving During Quarantine. “Tell someone you trust how you’re feeling and don’t worry about being a burden or taking up their time,” she says, “Anything that gives you more time is worth their time.”

She says it’s important to create action steps, like finding a mental health professional or calling a hotline where staff are trained in supporting those with suicidal thoughts. “As long as you’re telling people how you’re feeling there’s an opportunity to get you help and start shifting your reality into something you can cope with and one day embrace.”

Listen to the full episode HERE.

Luke O’Connor is the Industry Relations and Partnerships Manager at Support Act, an Australian music industry charity initially established to provide temporary crisis relief funding, usually following an injury. Before 2020 they were a relatively small organisation with a small budget. Last year they doubled their staff to cover the 800% increase in enquiries and, through fundraising and with the assistance of the Australian Government, were able to deliver over $2m in crisis support to over 700 individuals by September 2020.

“We now offer a range of programs and services,” he says, “encouraging people to seek help when they feel like they’re hitting the wall with their mental health and offering advice on how to support others who may be struggling.”

Luke says that long and irregular hours, lack of sleep, poor nutrition on the road and the pressure of a high-performance work environment can lead to anxiety, depression and high levels of suicidality among artists, production and crew. Although he is glad to see discussions around mental health increasing, he says the aim of Support Act is to turn talk into action.

They now offer a Manager Hotline providing advice to managers and promoters on how to support staff or clients experiencing mental health issues, a First Nations Support Line, the monthly workshop series, On My Mind, and will soon be launching an online resource hub. Designed as a portal for music industry professionals, the hub will provide information on issues such as how to deal with anxiety while on tour, depression related to creative blocks, loneliness and sleep deprivation, with contributions from well-known managers, acts and artists sharing their own experiences.

Most popular, though, is their Wellbeing Helpline, which offers 24/7 support. Connected with a national network of trained mental health professionals, it works as a call-back service. Luke says it’s great to see more people reaching out but notes that men are still less likely to take that first step and make the call. “Think of it as chatting with a mate,” he says.

LET’S MAKE A PACT

Across from where I was staying in Sydney was a Police Quarantine hotel. The day I started writing this article, ten returned travellers were diagnosed with COVID-19. I could see into a wall of bedrooms from my hotel room window. Areas were cordoned off, police with masks scurried up and down the stairs. On the corner, a young homeless man laid out a sleeping bag for the night. I had travelled to Sydney as part of a longer mission in which I’m suing the President of the United States. But that’s a story for another time.

Before I returned home, I called my friend, the one with the dishevelled apartment. She told me the mental health visits were helping and that her apartment was “somewhat more shevelled.”

“Do you need to renew your pact?” I asked her. It’s a tool someone had given to me, many years ago, though I’d forgotten it until my friend needed help. I’d added my own embellishments, just for her, and now I offer it to you.

I will not harm myself. I will not kill myself. I am a beautiful human being. I am resilient. I am loved. I deserve to be respected and my story deserves to be honoured. I love and respect myself. I love and honour myself. I make this contract with myself. I can renew it at any time. I will not harm myself. I will not kill myself.

Say it out loud.

………………………………………………………….

If you or a loved one are experiencing difficulty at this time, please refer to the following resources and helplines or search for additional services in your area.

Australia
Support Act Crisis Relief Fund  https://supportact.org.au/get-help-2/
Support Act Wellbeing Helpline 1800 959 500
Support Act First Nations Support Line 1800 959 500
Lifeline 13 11 14
Kids Helpline (aged 5–25) 1800 55 1800.
MensLine Australia 1300 78 99 78
Suicide Callback Service 1300 659 467
Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636  http://www.beyondblue.org.au/
Black Dog Institute  www.blackdoginstitute.org.au
Australian Drug Information Network  www.adin.com.au

France
Suicide écoute 01 45 39 40 00
SOS Suicide Phénix 01 40 44 46 45 
La Croix Rouge Ecoute 0800 858 858

Ireland
Samaritans 116 123

UK
Samaritans 116 123
CALM 0800 58 58 58
Shout (text “shout” to 85258)

USA
MusiCares https://www.grammy.com/musicares/get-help/musicares-coronavirus-relief
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255
National Alliance on Mental Illness 800-950-NAMI (6264).
The Crisis Text Line (text HOME to 741-741)
Samaritans USA Directory http://www.samaritansusa.org/contact.php

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