Mental health is arguably one of the most delicate, difficult, and most misunderstood concepts in the world today. Sadly, despite the best efforts of almost everyone, mental health issues and depression are steadily on the rise in Australia, and it’s more evident than ever that we need to change the way we approach these issues.
This week saw the tragic loss of Shane Collins, the beloved Brisbane musician known for his work with The Gifthorse and Headaches amongst others. As expected, tributes have flowed for the late muso, leading again to the discussion of mental health and how it affects Australian musicians.
In 2016, it was noted by triple j’s Hack program that musicians are up to ten times more likely than others to suffer from mental health issues, coming as the result of working in a creative industry that can feature, among other things, irregular hours, and insufficient pay.
“I think what people don’t realise is that if you have a career that has like zero safety net, isn’t really recognised by any union, is kind of mocked by family and peers as a kind of a hobby, and ‘what are you doing with your life you big loser, you’re always in debt,’ that’s probably going to have an effect on your mental health,” said Melbourne-based musician Jen Cloher at the time.
Joanna Cave, CEO of Support Act also responded to the findings at the time. “I think free access to confidential quality support services would be a really good step and more responsibility taken by the professionals that surround musos, the record labels, the managers,” she noted.
“Many managers do accept and understand that they have a duty of care but I think that needs to be reinforced.”
As Music Australia noted just last year, the Aussie music industry has definitely stepped up its game in how it deals with mental health, choosing to instigate a number of discussions, roundtables, and workshops aimed at helping musicians deal with the issues of mental health that they may suffer from.
On Wednesday, Aussie music all-rounder Stu Harvey shared to Twitter an impassioned plea for people to work past the negative connotations of mental health in order for us to work forward and help combat it. “The stigma around mental health needs to be destroyed,” he wrote. “We are all human and no one is living the life you think they are from the outside. I was diagnosed with depression years ago, I’m not embarrassed by it.”
“We all have our personal battles and need to share, and ask for help.”
The stigma around mental health needs to be destroyed. We are all human and no one is living the life you think they are from the outside. I was diagnosed with depression years ago, I’m not embarrassed by it. We all have our personal battles and need to share, and ask for help
— Stu Harvey (@stuharvey) February 1, 2018
Others, such as Deathproof, the Melbourne-based PR company, agreed wholeheartedly with Harvey’s sentiment, echoing that “It needs to be DECIMATED.”
“Everyone at DP struggles with mental health in many ways, every day,” they wrote on Twitter. “We have an ongoing Gchat thread where we keep tabs on each other and each person’s capacity to function / work their best. Days off always provided where necessary. No shame in it.”
It needs to be DECIMATED. Everyone at DP struggles with mental health in many ways, every day. We have an ongoing Gchat thread where we keep tabs on each other and each person's capacity to function / work their best. Days off always provided where necessary. No shame in it https://t.co/WJsPpyCHAJ
— Deathproof (@deathproofpr) February 2, 2018
Deathproof’s desire to ensure their employees are kept safe and healthy is a move echoed by countless others in the industry too, including Seventh Street Media, who employ a “no questions asked” approach to days off, encouraging staff to take mental health days to prevent burning themselves out.
In October, it was announced that Support Act and Alberts, through its Tony Foundation, have teamed up to provide a helpline for musicians who may be experiencing issues they feel they can’t discuss with anyone.
“Having seen first-hand through our family’s work in the music industry the prevalence and impact of mental health issues, we are excited to be supporting this innovative tailored approach to assist music professionals and drive improved mental wellbeing throughout the industry,” said Emily Alberts, Executive Officer of the Tony Foundation.
While approaches like this are definitely huge steps in the right direction, aiming to ensure that people within the music industry are aware of a support net, there is always room to improve the way that we deal with mental health issues.
As Shihad’s Tom Larkin noted last year in the wake of the passing of Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell, “the bottom line is that most creative people need clarity and health in order to produce great work.” We can only hope that as we move forward, the Australian music industry continues to recognise the issues at hand, and works hard to help its members achieve this clarity and health they so desperately need.