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Mental Health: Sound minds

Mental Health: Sound minds

Chair: Michael Chugg, Chugg Entertainment (AU)

Guest speakers:
Andy Franks, Music Support (UK)
Fiona McGugan, MMF (UK)
Chris Vaughan, Production Manager (UK)
Jana Watkins, Live Nation (UK)

Wednesday’s final panel saw an open and frank discussion about the effects of the live music business on people’s mental health.

Chair Michael Chugg opened with some statistics about mental health problems, saying around one in three people can be affected by mental health issues at some point in their life, but that in the creative industries, that figure is considerably higher. Research by Victoria University showed people working in our business are five times more likely to experience depression and ten times more likely to take their own life than the general population.

Production manager Chris Vaughan said it’s good we’re talking about this more openly. “As my generation of crew have reached their mid-50s, a frightening proportion are dying. I looked at a tour itinerary from 1990 and a quarter of them were no longer with us. It’s unnatural,” he said. “It’s our lifestyles such as lack of sleep but it’s also suicide. People coming to the end of a touring career and they become isolated and decide it’s not worth continuing.”

Fiona McGugan, of the UK’s Music Managers Forum explained it had developed a guide for managers after receiving numerous calls about problems on the road that managers felt they needed support in handling.

“It’s our lifestyles such as lack of sleep but it’s also suicide"

“We worked with Music Support to produce the guide. It includes things like boundaries, stress management, anxiety, alcoholism, addiction. The aim was to say ‘here’s the signs and symptoms and what you can do’,” she said.

It was the touring lifestyle that led Andy Franks of charity Music Support to develop alcoholism. Things got so bad he was fired, a move which hurt at the time, but which he describes as saving his life.

“I didn’t know who to speak to. I didn’t feel organisations like Samaritans would understand about the pressures I’m under,” he said. So he set up Music Support. “We have a 24-hour helpline, safe tents backstage at UK festivals - only for people working. It’s for people to come speak to someone and find out more. We’ve helped over 150 people.”

Jana Watkins, of Live Nation Entertainment in the UK shared her own experiences of mental health issues, and how it led her to put more of an emphasis on these matters across the business.  

Key to success is breaking down the stigma around mental health, she explained, adding “budget should never be an issue. A lot of what we did cost nothing.”

Examples of effective ways of breaking down the stigma included making mental health awareness videos and encouraging staff to discuss their own stories.

Chris Vaughan said having an organisation such as Music Support or Sound Advice on the end of the phone is useful, because as a manager you can direct your staff to a helpline that’s not connected directly to work.

How can we spot problems when often they come as a surprise? wondered the panel; admitting it can be difficult, but saying that there is a duty of care to artists and workers.

The Music Managers Guide to Mental Health, published by MMF and Music Support, can be downloaded here.