When there isn't a global pandemic one in five U.S. adults experience mental illness each year, and the rate is much higher for music industry professionals, according to an organization that helps independent musicians. Seventy-three percent of independent music makers suffer from symptoms of mental illness and the coronavirus pandemic is only bringing these issues to the surface.
"This crisis is already impacting our mental health and will continue. This means we have to talk about anxiety, depression, suicide and more because it’s happening in our community, right now," said Spencer Townshend Hughes and Angela Whaley of Music Minds Matter. "Not talking about it enables stigma. It can sometimes truly mean life or death."
Hughes, a band member of local rock group The Hollow, and Whaley, who fundraises for music labels and helps with tour management, created Music Minds Matters as a safe space for musicians to talk about mental health.
Tell us about the origins of Music Minds Matter? How did it come to be?
Music Minds Matter (Spencer): I was struggling with my mental wellness and outreached a Facebook group centered around the Denver music scene and asked if there was a place for us to get together to chat about our struggles as participating members of the music scene. The answer was, "No, but that sounds AWESOME! You should start that!" Hence, the birth of Mental Wellness Meetup.
After successfully hosting 20-plus meetups, we were encouraged to apply for the Denver Music Advancement Grant through Denver Arts & Venues by our good friends at Youth on Record, and for the past two years have been humble recipients of the grant and have been able to grow into the organization, Music Minds Matter.
We're hoping to be the connector between musicians and music community members who are struggling, and mental health professionals, and those who are focused on the recovery.
How has the program developed?
Music Minds Matter: It started as a very informal monthly meetup for the music community. Once we received grant money from the Denver Music Advancement Fund we were able to use that to both get our instructor certification to teach Mental Health First Aid. We’re looking forward to certifying our community in Mental Health First Aid, expanding resources through therapist partnerships, and continuing our regular meetups with the community.
You do digital meetups weekly now. What does that look like?
Music Minds Matter: Last year we started discussing maybe adding a virtual meetup to the calendar so we could provide more meetup times and availability for the community. When COVID-19 started changing the world we decided it was time to launch these quickly so we could provide a safe space during these unprecedented times.
We were thrust into hosting them virtually sooner than intended, but the thing with mental wellness is it doesn't always sync up with your schedule.
We have a business Zoom account, so members RSVP and we send them a link to join. As members join, their cameras and mics are muted, so they're able to delegate their level of participation right off the bat. People don't have to share or participate at all. We go through our Support Agreements, and after a round of brief introductions, we start the conversation.
Do you think the digital meetups are helping?
Music Minds Matter: Yes, absolutely. Creating a safe space is at our core and we are grateful that we can also provide that space digitally. We’ve also found that it has increased accessibility as well. We’ve had people join from Colorado Springs and others who can never make the monthly time in person, and they were grateful they could join remotely from wherever they are.
In order to build community, we have to be present for our community. And by simply providing the space for others, it shows folks that they're not alone. We understand the vulnerability it takes to participate, but what we're hoping to create is a space to explore before choosing devastating alternative methods.
Do you partner with mental health based organizations?
Music Minds Matter: Yes! We are currently partnered with SummitStone and Boost Counseling, and some individual therapists. We've had therapists sit in on meetups in case someone started experiencing a crisis. ANYONE looking to partner or participate in any way can contact us through www.musicmindsmatter.org/contact
What does the future look like for Music Minds Matter?
Music Minds Matter: More meetups. More partnerships. More Mental Health First Aid training. But also more communication with the public. More normalizing. MORE PROGRAMMING!
We're looking to introduce music festival programming, band counseling, sober buddy programs, mentorships, etc. And meeting more folks like you to help spread the word. We appreciate you so so much.
You love listening to new music and learning about Denver's music scene.
We have a weekly newsletter for you -- Inside Track. Sign up here to stay in the know
about Colorado musicians making new music and the new releases you should be streaming.