Members of the music industry open up about their mental health: “We’ve got each other”August 1, 2017
*This article contains discussion about depression and suicide.
Like it did for music fans the world over, the tragic passing of Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington on July 20 caused me to do a bit of soul-searching. I must confess that I’ve never been much of a Linkin Park fan; that’s not to say I dislike the band – I can certainly appreciate the incredible impact Chester and co. have had on rock music – but they’ve never grabbed me in the way that bands like My Chemical Romance or the Ramones have.
Reading the news about Chester as it broke, however, I felt a shudder inside me. This one really hurt. All suicides are, of course, tragic, but hearing about the death of a musician who was a part of my generation of bands made it hurt more. This was someone who was a part of my culture. It felt closer to home.
Any attempt by me to write a lengthy tribute to Chester would be insincere –– I can’t claim to have been greatly touched by his words or his music. But I have been moved by the outpouring of love toward Linkin Park.
Mental health conditions are something that touch us all. Whether you are suffering yourself or know someone who is, it affects all of our lives. I’d like to share my experience with mental health, and that of others in the music industry, to demonstrate the commonality of mental illness, and how, as a scene and a community, we can support each other.
My struggles with mental health—specifically, anxiety and panic attacks—started three years ago as I entered my second year at university. I’d had a fantastic first year at uni; I’d socialized loads, made a lot of friends and really come out of my shell. Yes, I’d faced scenarios many others do during the initial 12-months at college—exam stress, romantic ups and downs, one too many hangovers (sorry, Mum)—but nothing that I felt caused me any great emotional strain at the time.
Returning for my second year, I quickly began to notice a change in myself: I was worrying about things constantly, stressing about stuff I didn’t need to. I became fearful of going to classes—rather than bunking off with a hangover (again, Mum, I’m really sorry), I was skipping class because I was too afraid to go; and most significantly, my desire to be social and go on nights out with my friends was completely shot. I went from being a carefree individual unafraid to bust out some shockingly bad moves in a club to someone literally terrified of socializing. What I was scared of I didn’t know, and I still don’t, but I would often find social situations becoming simply too much for me; I’d regularly leave places unexpectedly, feeling disoriented and nauseous. It took me a bit of time, but eventually I realized what was wrong: I was suffering from anxiety and panic attacks.
For a period, my confidence and general demeanor wasn’t great. I would sit in the house alone and in the dark, with all my friends out having fun, and question why I wasn’t there with them. But as soon as I entertained the thought of going out, the anxiety would kick in and I’d be forced back to the relative comfort of my bed.
It was a dark time, but with the help of counseling, the support of my family and—after I eventually opened up to them—my friends, I pulled myself out of that place.
But I don’t think mental health conditions are things that ever fully leave you, and I have had setbacks since deciding to get help. I remember the first time I did a face-to-face interview with a properly big band (Britpop legends James) and those feelings of panic and anxiety setting in. I was at a festival full of people having the time of their lives, and all I could think of was the fear rushing through my body. I had a similar experience before the start of my internship at Kerrang! magazine: I took first-day nerves to a whole new level, having a full-blown panic attack before leaving for the office and feeling completely wiped before I’d even set foot in the building. Now, having had the worst possible start to my (then only wannabee) journalistic career, I stand as a freelance writer for Kerrang! and Alternative Press less than a year later, having got to interview my favourite band and countless others during that time.
The warmth and sense of belonging I’ve been shown whilst working in the industry brings me to what I feel is one of the best things about being a part of the alternative music scene, and that is the support of those around us. We’re all a bit different. There’s a reason your Grandma pulls a face when you show her that Slipknot video, just like there’s a reason The Daily Mail branded My Chemical Romance “a death cult”: They don’t get it. And that’s fine, because we’ve got each other.
I can’t tell you how many bands I’ve interviewed recently who’ve openly brought up the topic of mental health, but off the top of my head, here are a few: Silverstein, Movements, the Homeless Gospel Choir, Creeper, Milk Teeth, Gnarwolves and Blood Youth.I feel like we, as a scene, recognize what’s going on. Bands, fans, journalists… pick out any faction of alternative music, and the people within it have an understanding of the mental health problem. We’re an empathetic community, and I think that’s an important thing for people facing depression, anxiety and the like to understand.
The support networks are there: Friends, family, doctors, therapists, charities and the music scene itself all offer assistance to anyone struggling. Some of those things won’t work for everyone, of course, but the point is that they exist. As well as the stories of other figures in the music industry who’ve battled mental health conditions, I’ll list some of the charities and services you can turn to for help at the end of this piece.
I’d like to conclude by thanking anyone reading this for giving me the opportunity to share my story. If you’ve been able to relate to it in any way, that’s brilliant. And if you think what I’ve written is a load of nonsense, that’s okay, too. Because being a part of the music community is what’s given me the courage to open up about my past struggles. Before I got involved in music, I would have never had the confidence to publicly share my experiences, but the understanding and empathy I’ve found in the alternative scene has given me that strength. I hope that, in some way, anyone facing a mental health battle can find that solace, too.
While writing this article, I reached out to some friends who work in the music industry to ask if they’d share their mental health experiences. Each person’s story is unique and offers a different perspective on mental health. This is what they had to say.
Stephen Ackroyd—Editor, Upset / Dork:
“The music industry increasingly understands that mental health is a major issue, but like most others, it's not always set up to address the problem. Within the corner I work in, it's a constant assault of information and demands. We got here because of our love of music, but with more bands now than ever, there's a clamoring for the churn that can overrun a writer or editor like a double-decker bus.
“Beyond that, I feel the requirement to be a rock to the team I work with. At several points in the past, I've struggled personally, but as an editor, there’s a fear that letting that show might result in unease from those around you. There's a stigma to mental health still, even amongst those who feel 'woke.' I still fear it can be seen as a weakness, even if it's unintentional. That means bottling stuff up when it’s not healthy to do so.
“A lot of self-doubt comes from the same place the creativity we need does. I know plenty of people doing what I do, and almost all of them have struggled at one point or another.”
Asher Alexander—Publicist, Republic Media PR:
“My previous boss put me through immense amounts of stress and anxiety. His idea of fun was screaming in my face when I made a mistake and telling me I was worthless all the time. It took such a toll on my mental health that I believed him when he said I was a failure, doomed to never succeed in the music industry. I was crying to my family and feeling null of emotions for a long time, and I still feel the effects to this day. I was coping by drinking and neglecting my physical health (which only compounded my poor mental health). I looked and felt like shit.
“When I left that job, I found solace through exercise. I quit drinking for the most part, stopped smoking and took up a strict eating regimen. This has been the most beneficial thing I've ever done to help my mental health. I truly believe the link between physical and mental health is indisputable, and one cannot be obtained without the other. It's a tough lifestyle change to make, but I would advise anyone feeling like I did to look into exercise—with the internet, you have an unlimited amount of resources available! A great place to start could be with Joe Wicks, who has a variety of 20-minute circuits available for free.”
Jessica Bridgeman—Founder, Don’t Fret Club:
“As a young, female journalist immersed in the U.K. music scene, I became overwhelmed by pressures to look and act a certain way for fear of not getting my next byline. I'd always been an anxious type, but my self-doubt soon developed into depression. To cope, and to be more informed on mental health, I created the Don't Fret Club and set about making the content I wanted, and needed, to hear. As a podcast, and now a zine, we talk directly to musicians about mental illness to help empower and educate music fans on topics of anxiety and depression. It all started with a chat with Jenna McDougall of Tonight Alive, and we've since featured the likes of As It Is, Frank Carter, Of Mice & Men, Real Friends, and heaps more. For me, it's a lot about learning to be more understanding and patient with ourselves.”
Kika Chatterjee—Journalist, Alternative Press:
“I've been writing for AP and other publications for the past few years while being a full-time college student and dabbling in mental health and feminist advocacy. I recently wrote a piece about my incredibly temperamental relationship with my own mental health. Although it's something I've battled my entire life and know intimately, it also feels so flighty and out of my grasp. My article discusses how difficult it is to reach out for help when suffering with a mental health condition.”
Lisa Fox—Publicist, Rage PR:
“When I was 23, I was diagnosed with depression. It wasn't a shock at all, but it was very much the beginning of my journey with my mental health. For a long time, I suffered in silence, but with the support of my doctor, my friends and my colleagues, it’s something I've learned to manage using a combination of methods, so it never affects my work. If anything, my job actually helps me; music is incredibly cathartic, and it can really get you through hard times. Although there have been dark days over the years, I've always found support when I needed it.
“The best piece of advice I can give anyone is not to hide how you feel—tell someone, tell anyone. It’s not about crying out for help, it’s about making sure the people you trust know the signs, so they know what to look for when the cloud comes down. Although I would also advocate speaking to a medical professional, there's also a lot of self-help you can do online with sites such as mind.org. Don't suffer alone; it’s okay to not be okay, and it’s definitely okay to ask for help.”
Hannah Hines—Founder, The Punk Pit Stop; freelance journalist and publicist:
“I’ve started a nonprofit called The Punk Pit Stop that delivers fan-funded care packages to touring bands. As far as mental health goes, my main battle has been with anxiety and panic attacks. At first I tried coping with expressive outlets and support from my friends, but it wasn't enough. I finally started to go to therapy and was able to start to understand and manage my anxiety. I've chosen to be transparent about getting help, which can be scary, but I wish I’d known someone who de-stigmatized the concept of getting help much sooner.”
Mikey Lord—Founder, We Are Not Dead Yet; vocalist, As Sirens Fall:
“I suffered quietly for a very long time. Diagnosis was an important step because it helped me to understand, knowing the name of the monster on my back. Over time, I’ve found it easier to self-accommodate things like panic attacks and downtime for when I know I’m going to need it. Coming back from touring is a trigger. So, I generally remove all potential bad decisions from sight, stock the fridge, change my bedsheets and then hit the road. Then when we get back there's no need for me to do anything but slob out.
“It’s not always the coming home that starts it. It can have the most random triggers—I think that’s what a lot of people don’t understand about depression. It’s not ‘I’m sad about this thing,’ but more ‘I’m just really fucking sad and I don’t have any excuses.’ Panic attacks are harder to predict and deal with. I like to just be on my own while I wait for the aftershocks to end.
“I was, to a degree, quite content living like this. I felt like I’d made a deal with the monster on my back, and I’d got myself relatively figured out. Then I lost a friend to suicide in 2016, and then someone much closer to me took her own life this summer. I've never known a feeling like it. So I figured I'd do something about it: I set up a nonprofit called We Are Not Dead Yet (WANDY). What I want to do is raise understanding through art, merch, gatherings, music and events. It’s time to start a conversation. You’re not alone.”
Si Martin—Founder, Heads Above The Waves; drummer, Junior:
“I struggled throughout school with self-harm, I think due to a combination of being bullied, not knowing how to how to express myself and pure frustration. I guess the difference came when I realized that I could work through all that frustration and low self-worth by thrashing a drum kit rather than taking it out on myself. That let me get out everything I needed to, while also giving me a sense of purpose and identity.
“But I still struggle even today. It's hard not to constantly compare yourself to others; I feel like I don't spend enough time with my friends, and I have this low-key anxiety that everyone actually hates me. Weirdly, I power through all that by making myself be as extroverted and friendly as I possibly can be. It's hard sometimes, but I think I'm slowly becoming more confident in my ability to talk to people.
“I've tried a few things to keep myself mentally healthy: playing drums, writing down three things that have been good about the day, exercise, to-do lists and actually talking. When someone asks if I'm okay, I try to be honest about what's getting me down. Talking has helped me figure out perspective and a plan of action.
“I run a non-profit organization called Heads Above The Waves that's all about helping people find a way of coping with the bad days that works for them. There's a bunch of blog posts and ideas of things to try at HATW.co.uk.”
Jamie Otsa—Publicist, Wall Of Sound PR:
“The music business can be a lonely, competitive, combative and stressful environment at the best of times, but for anyone suffering from mental health problems, working in it can be a time bomb without the right support. The most important thing is to remember that we’re all dealing with real people with unique emotional needs. We’re all guilty of over-scheduling bands (or ourselves), routing grueling tours or expecting people to work unsociable hours. Having a strong network of understanding colleagues and peers has been key for my personal stability, and an open dialogue about handling mental health throughout the industry in a wider context is vital. I think it’s down to our generation to address mental health as a key problem in our industry, alongside issues of institutionalized sexism, classism and racism which have gone unchallenged.”
Whitney Paxton—Journalist, Alternative Press; Street Team Leader, Fearless Records:
“I’ve struggled with depression and a sense of worthlessness for the majority of my life. It wasn't until I started submerging myself into music and going to shows that I finally felt comfortable with myself again. I've met some of the greatest people watching bands such as All Time Low, State Champs and the Word Alive—artists who’ve proved time and time again through their lyrics and their actions that I wasn't alone, and that it was okay for me to not be okay.”
Sean Reid—Editor, Already Heard:
“Working a nine-to-five job alongside being a music writer and editor can be stressful, and the demands of both have taken their toll on me mentally. In recent years, I've had a few severe bouts of depression.
“Throughout my mental health issues, I've listened to music as a way to find comfort and understanding. There are bands like the Wonder Years who I can relate to lyrically, and songs such as “Believe” by Moneen that give me hope when I'm feeling low.
“Like many, I echo the sentiment of advising people with mental health issues to talk—opening up to people I trust was the best thing I ever did. I believe we should live in a society where we shouldn't bury our feelings. I'm a strong supporter of organizations such as CALM and Mind—they are people who don't judge and are there to listen and offer help and guidance.”
Chloe Scannapieco—Journalist, Alternative Press:
“I’ve been a volunteer counselor at ChildLine, which is part of the U.K.'s biggest children's charity, the NSPCC, for over five years. I attend a weekly shift where I take phone calls, online chats and emails from children and young people up to the age of 18 from all over the country. I counsel each contact on a wide range of issues, from low- to high-risk.
“Over two years ago, one of my childhood friends who I knew for 20 years sadly took her own life. The pain is still unquenchable. Since this tragic event, I have suffered from debilitating anxiety, but I reach out to friends who are my support network, and I also go to the gym three times a week to clear my mind and improve my physical, mental and emotional health.
“I have seen the devastation that mental health issues can cause firsthand, and although I would never blame anyone for what they decide to do with their own life, I encourage everyone to discuss their own mental health with a friend or even a stranger on a helpline on a regular basis. Together, we can crush the stigma and hopefully save more lives.”
Sunny Stuart Winter—Blogger, SunnyStuartWinter.com; host, Such Great Heights podcast:
“Two years ago, my ex-girlfriend sadly took her own life after over a decade fighting mental illness, depression and eating disorders. She was only 26. It’s constantly on my mind, and I really want to commit time throughout the rest of my life to good causes that promote and fundraise for mental health charities. I've had my own fair share of anxiety and depression working in music over the years. Although it can be difficult, talking is so vital in fighting depression and anxiety. When it comes to making sense of losing loved ones or getting through tough times, creativity has served me well. Writing or playing music are my forms of escapism.”
Kristine Cannon—Digital Editor, Alternative Press:
“This is actually really difficult for me to do because I’ve never talked about this openly before now. Writing this down now, I can still hear family members’ voices and their responses to my reaching out in my head: ‘I’m sure it’s just a phase. You’re fine.’ Some background: I had just gotten out of an emotionally abusive relationship (before that, a physically abusive relationship), which happened right after a pretty serious car accident that left my car totaled and my boyfriend at the time with a fractured spine. And my grandfather, who I cherished and adored, had just died.
“‘Don’t think too much about it. It’s nothing.’ It stung. It took me months to finally open up, afraid I’d come off dramatic. And it’s exactly how I felt when I got off the phone with each one of them: That what I was feeling was an exaggeration.
“I tried to share with the people in my life how I felt but was always quickly shut down. So I tried to shake it off, pretend like how I felt was no big deal. I bottled it up. I kept journals, and reading them now, I can so clearly see the signs. I was depressed and hurting; I didn’t recognize myself, and no one listened. And that’s my message to anyone reading this: If someone confides in you, please remember that it took courage for that person to open up to you. Please listen and just be there. That’s all it takes is to know you have a support system.”
“When you suffer from any kind of anxiety or depression, working in this field seems like a recipe for disaster. You're often the middle man between two parties, such as an artist and a journalist. If you make a mistake, quite rightly people get annoyed at you. Sometimes bad things happen that you have zero control over. Either way, it's your job to absorb the flack and try to resolve the situation, keeping the artist happy, the journalist happy and your client (usually a manager or label) happy.
“I'm prone to anxiety, a symptom of which is taking small issues and blowing them out of proportion. When you have several parties phoning you at 10 p.m. when an interview has gone wrong essentially to tell you that you're a dick and that you're shit at your job, it can be quite overwhelming. Assuming there are things going on out of your control (missed flights, broken-down cars, etc.), there's often nothing you can do but apologize and let people vent. I've probably been the closest to suicide in these situations, feeling like it's the end of the world, even though, in reality, it's not life and death. The best way I’ve found of dealing with it is meditation. Being able to separate yourself from all the thoughts buzzing around your head (and emails pinging in your inbox) and focusing on what really matters (relationships, health, etc.) can be the only way to keep your head above water.”
The following services all offer help and advice to people struggling with mental health:
Crisis Text Line: Text ‘START’ to 741-741
National Alliance on Mental Illness: 1-800-950-6264
Self-Harm Hotline: 1-800-DONT CUT (1-800-366-8288)
Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)
Calm Zone: 0800 58 58 58
ChildLine: 0800 1111
Mind: 0300 123 3393
The Samaritans: 116 123
Headspace: 1800 650 890
Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800
Suicide Hotline: 525 510 2550