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Communication, Community and Celebration – Combatting mental health issues within the music industry

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A sign of the times

Being able to openly discuss depression, and mental health issues in general, is slowly becoming more acceptable. It feels as though we are in a transition period from the oppressive stigma of the past to a more open future in which these kinds of matters can take their place alongside other ailments: no more a sign of weakness than contracting a physical disease.

The music industry has been rocked by several high profile suicides in the last couple of years; events that left those of us who do not suffer mental health problems baffled, and left those who do struggling adequately to explain why someone with seemingly everything could have the motivation to commit such an act. Depression can affect anyone in any walk of life, but it would be fair to say that a creative industry like music is a harbour for a high percentage of affected people who may be searching for a method of expression to help with whatever demons are plaguing them. It would also be fair to say that the music created over the centuries has truly helped people navigate their way through such dark forests, which makes seeing musicians succumb to the most final of solutions all the more upsetting.

As a society, and as individuals there is a huge amount we can do.


Communication

Communication is essential; has someone that has shown evidence in the past of depression or mentioned dealing with such issues not been as visible recently? Contact them, offer a casual meet up; you do not need to be a qualified therapist to be a friend, and often a lunch and chat about your favourite recent film or album or gig can be a big boost. If someone attempts to confide suicidal thoughts in you, it is understandably going to be difficult. But the fact that they consider you a close enough friend to talk about it means they feel safe with you; suicide is often a desperate manifestation of a temporary feeling, and in allowing someone the space and time to talk about it - to allow it out of its internal box - that build-up of desperation has an opportunity to disperse and alternative options have a better chance of being considered. If you are worried about someone, don’t feel guilty about getting professionals involved. Of course you’ll want to respect your friend’s wishes, and they might have begged you not to tell anyone. But they are likely not in the best place to look out for their own interests, and contacting their partner, a trusted family member or a mental health professional (details below) could be what saves them. As long as they’re alive, you can handle them being annoyed with you for a few days, right?

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Aiden Hatfield is a musician and mental health advocate that hosts weekly open discussions on Twitter for anyone suffering from depression. He also runs a clothing brand which donate 50% of their profits to mental health charity Mind.


Community

Community is the opposite of isolation - coming together and feeling welcomed by others that share our interests is one of the most wonderful aspects of the human experience. However, it can also be hugely intimidating for a person who feels out of sorts, and so it is important to mention that the option of being included, even when a person is unable to accept the invitation, is almost more important than being there. Knowing that there is a big group of friends and shoulders out there is essential; but so is knowing that those friends are not angry when you don’t attend, and haven’t forgotten about you just because you’ve missed a few get-togethers. Keep an eye on a friend who does retract much more often than normal, but do not berate them for staying in. Keep inviting them to things and show them you’re glad to see them when they do come.

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Celebration

Celebration is what we do when we have worked hard at something and it hasn’t entirely failed. In a society that increasingly compares itself against a superficiality of stylised social media profiles, it is important to remember that whatever we have done, it was worthwhile if our heart was in it. We should say so when we see someone else working hard, regardless of the degree to which they succeed. Notice and compliment people’s efforts, and they will notice yours.

These three words have certainly been central to the organising of an event this month in Plymouth, Devon. Our city has suffered some terrible losses of valued friends and members of the community to suicide this year and to see a musical event organised in response is incredibly brave, mature and heartening. We spoke to Rory Lethbridge about the C.A.L.M & Mind Weekend Fundraiser.


An interview with Rory Lethbridge

What is happening at your upcoming weekender?

“What’s not happening at this weekender?! We have over 20 bands and artists playing across 2 venues over 2 days. Everything from spoken word, electronic noise, surf rock, kraut rock, punk, Americana and everything in between. At its core, though, it is the coming together of a scene, in support of a couple of great causes that in our opinion don’t get enough attention.”

Why are you putting the C.A.L.M / Mind weekender on?

“Mental Health has shaken the music scene closely this year, both in Plymouth and the wider scene. Really it was one event that sparked a fire and made a group of musicians and members of the scene want to help in any way we can. With the brilliant musical community in Plymouth and some of the connections the scene has, it meant that we were able to pull off a pretty impressive line-up which I’m really proud of and massively excited about!” 

Would you like to see an end to the stigma surrounding mental health issues, is that a big factor for you?

“Yes, absolutely. It’s also very encouraging to see more and more artists talking about their mental health. I’ve seen a range of people talk about it from Adele to some closer musical friends like Milo Gore and Luke Moss. The stigma is ultimately damaging and needs to go.”

 What role can the music community have in helping people with mental health issues?

“I think it’s really important to reach out to each other and really act as a community. I think it is naïve to think that people in a certain state of mind are going to reach out. I think we just need to be supportive of everyone and really keep the community spirit alive. In the Internet age, it’s easy to get a false sense of how ‘okay’ someone is so I think making personal connections and interactions are so important now.”

 Have you curated the event yourself or has it been a group effort?

“It’s been a huge group effort and I definitely cannot take all the credit! Ben Turner (The Underground, Plymouth) put together the brilliant Friday line up, India Hicks (Loopholes, Plymouth) did the poster, Andrew Girdler (Tunnel Visions) helped me persuade some bands to get back together for the event and has also been editing the Zine with me. I’d like to thank all the bands and artists that have been involved.”

 If it's successful, what would your thoughts about the future be for this event - could you see it as an annual thing to raise money for C.A.L.M & Mind?

“I’d love to continue doing this if it’s a success, and hey why can’t it grow and get bigger and maybe include a third venue? I guess the sky’s the limit with this sort of event. I’m sure after we see how the weekend goes talks will start again. This is just me speculating though so watch this space.”

What are you most looking forward to?

“There is so much stuff going on its really impossible to say. So I’ll just mention a couple, but there is something for everyone. Really looking forward to seeing Rosebud, whose live show looks brilliantly scary. I’m also looking forward to Worried Shoes who I missed the first-time round (they haven’t played a show together in 2 years). T.S Idiot will be another highlight as he is one of the funniest poets I’ve seen.”

 Anything you would like to add?

“A couple of things:

 Andrew Girdler and I are making a zine to go along with the event which you will be able to purchase during the weekend. It includes information about the charities, bands, and an array of art, photography and poetry. I really encourage people to purchase this as a memento from the weekend and to help pick the artists you want to see as it also includes information on the bands.

The response to the event from the bands and the public has been great so I’d like to thank them from the bottom of my heart. It’s a cause I’m sure affects many people and spreading awareness is really important, so I hope the event can grow. We are still looking for help for some aspects of the weekender, so anyone who wants to be involved in any way please get in touch.”

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If you are able to get to Plymouth, please do support these two fantastic causes - as well as the quality line-up, of course - you will not be disappointed. For more information on the weekender, head over to the Facebook event.


A more central offering

If you are in London tomorrow, there is a free talk about mental health and the music industry at Queen Elizabeth Hall, as part of Meltdown festival. This event replaces the planned performance by Frightened Rabbit, following the singer’s untimely passing on May 10th, and will be moderated by clinical psychologist Dr Jay Watts. It features Stefan Olsdal, guitarist of Placebo, and Kristin Hersh from Throwing Muses, who will discuss their struggles with mental health over the years, offering insight and opening the discussion – one that we need to have as often as possible, and one around which the aforementioned weekender and these kinds of talks can only help to increase the noise. They may be difficult conversations to have, as they can feel surrounded by an awkwardness and a fear of admitting what is societally perceived as weakness. But the reality is that battling with depression, anxiety or any other form of mental illness requires a huge amount of strength, and it is important that we are there for each other as much as possible.

It is together that we will overcome these issues, and it is by talking and listening that we will save lives. 

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Links and resources

Please see below for links to the events, the resources that we’ve used to put this blog together, and a selection of books that might be useful if you or people close to you are dealing with mental health issues.

Websites

musicmindsmatter.org.uk/ | thecalmzone.net/  | mind.org.uk/ | nhs.uk/conditions/suicide/

Books

Reasons to Stay Alive

A Beginners Guide to Being Mental

How to Survive the End of the World (When it's in Your Own Head): An Anxiety Survival Guide

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