The first mental health initiative I want to bring to your attention is the wonderful Don’t Fret Club, I’ll let founder Jess Hope tell you more via our recent Q and A….
For people that don’t know about Don’t Fret Club, can you tell them what you do and what your mission is as an initiative?
Don’t Fret Club is a positive mental health initiative helping to promote good wellbeing within the music industry and beyond. Our mission, ultimately, is to help music fans talk about mental health. We aim to do that in a number of ways but predominantly we’re a podcast. We also create zines and collaborate on different creative projects with other not-for-profit and charitable organisations. We work to raise awareness of mental health conditions like anxiety and depression by providing a safe platform to help educate and empower fans, artists and those working behind the scenes in music.
You were working over here in the UK within the music/media industry for a number of years, what in particular made you think it was necessary to establish Don’t Fret Club? Were there personal experiences, or things you witnessed regularly, that particularly shone a light on the need for awareness and discussion on mental health in the music industry?
In many ways, Don’t Fret Club was born as a platform I could benefit from personally. I experienced absolute burn-out while working as a music journalist, which eventually led to a diagnosis of anxiety and then depression. But it was all around me, too. My life revolved around the music industry and everywhere I looked, I could see friends and strangers struggling without a proper platform to channel the conversation through. The topic of mental health would regularly come up in interviews I did with artists, but as a freelance writer, I had no control over whether those topics would make it into print. Nine times out of ten, they wouldn’t, and when they did, the topic of mental health was glamorised in a way I didn’t feel comfortable with. Establishing Don’t Fret Club gave control of that narrative back to artists and fans.
From your experience, were employees understanding of mental health issues, for instance if you needed time off or were struggling with your mental health on a particular day?
I was diagnosed with depression while working as a freelance journalist so unfortunately the editors who commissioned me weren’t always understanding. This was in part due to my fear of losing work, as much as their focus on churning out the quickest content. Over the years, as I’ve developed Don’t Fret Club and went through different highs and lows with mental health, my employers have become increasingly understanding. The conversation is more accepted in the work place, but we’ve still got a long way to go. In some cases, I still regret being so forthcoming because it has had negative repercussions down the line, like colleagues assuming you can’t handle as much responsibility. Ultimately though, my advice is to stay true to yourself and always put your health first.
You are now based in Australia still working within media/music. Are there any things you’ve noticed they’re doing better out there, that the UK and other countries could take inspiration from in terms of mental health in the industry/in general?
The Australian music community has really embraced Don’t Fret Club, but that’s largely due to a better acceptance across the industry on a global scale. When we launched in the UK back in 2016, many people weren’t ready to have the conversation or still didn’t know where to begin. I’ve been overwhelmed by the support Don’t Fret Club has received by the local music scene in Australia. Bands like Tonight Alive, Northlane, Camp Cope and The Hard Aches inspire me with their willingness to be so open and consistently stand up for what they believe in.
I’ve found talking openly about my problems as helped me greatly. It’s exposing of course, but incredibly cathartic. Has Don’t Fret and the associated work helped you with your own mental health? (and how)
I’ve always been very open about my experiences with mental health, even before the podcast. I find the interviews very cathartic but the editing process can be daunting. In many ways, the success of Don’t Fret Club has been slowed down by my own demons. There’s a beautiful irony in that though, I suppose.
I sometimes worry when I’m talking about mental health that I’m not using PC language, or phrasing things write, or perhaps giving the right advice. How do you deal with wanting to continue the conversation but not stressing yourself out too much?
Similarly, as our audience grew, I became increasingly concerned with the language I used. I’ve always been very honest about where my knowledge comes from, and that’s personal experiences and often new learnings from podcast guests. I began working alongside headspace (Australia’s leading youth mental health organisation) last year and they were able to guide me on language and trigger words to avoid. Working with organisations like headspace is key because I always want to ensure we’re offering practical help as much as starting the conversation.
Your work involves talking to people, being in crowded space, posting very personal work your extremely passionate about. Is that hard to do on those days where you are battling those head based demons?
Absolutely, and there’s been many days where I’ve given myself a tough time for feeling like a fraud. I’m thankful to have the support of people who listen to the podcast and relate to those experiences. I’m still learning to balance the pressure, but Don’t Fret Club has helped me to recognise my own warning signs and feel less isolated in those situations.
Why do you think so many people within the music industry struggle with mental health problems?
There’s no one size fits all answer, but there’s no denying it’s a very competitive and passionate industry; both things that play on the weaknesses of mental health. I think history is guilty of glamorising mental health in music and instilling this idea of the broken artist in us. The media often paints the picture of great art as something that can only come from a dark place, so many of us are drawn into it as a solution for how we already feel.
What feedback have you had from your events/podcasts/zines from people in terms of how they’ve helped?
Winning The Unified Grant (a music industry grant awarded by the Unified Music Group) in December 2017 was a huge turning point for me personally. To have the podcast recognised as something integral and worthy of growth was amazing, and it couldn’t have happened without the support of listeners. It’s amazing to see how our podcasts, zines and live events help to empower people. You can almost see the relief and self-confidence wash over everyone in real time.
If you could have some time with the health department of the government what would you urge them to change about how things are currently dealt with?
Every area needs dramatic improvement, but when I think back to my education, there was never any mention of mental health. The earlier we can start to teach the importance of self care and listening to your body, the better. I only wish I had been taught earlier to know that my mental aches and pains were as damaging as the physical ones.
Something which concerns me is that fans often reach out to band members for support when things are particularly difficult for them. Some bands try their very best to help. But my concern is that of course they are not trained or qualified to help with these. Fans may rely on their replies them too much. But also that’s a lot of pressure for a band member to take on, particularly if they suffer with mental health issues themselves. Do you have any ideas of solutions for this quandary?
I agree, there’s so much pressure on artists to have the answers when, in many cases, they are struggling themselves. Music can play such an integral role in helping to break the stigma around mental health, but it’s important for us to remember that musicians are people too. I think that’s why it’s more important than ever for artists and labels to work directly with not-for-profit initiatives and mental health charities to help provide that tool for fans who may need it.
From speaking to artists regularly regarding mental health, what are the common themes in terms of how the industry might be making their mental health issues louder, more frequent, or harder to deal with?
In my experience of talking to musicians about mental health, being cut off from society has a huge impact. Being on tour is often like living in a bubble; you’re away from loved ones and you miss out on major events, but you’re also in the spot light every night. I think it’s a difficult balance to get right, no matter how experienced you are.
It’s clear that we are talking about Mental Health more. But I still feel like we are lagging a bit on the action side of things. What would you like to see happen sooner rather than later when it comes to the understanding of mental health, treating it, raising awareness correctly, making changes within industries etc.
Starting the conversation is only the first step and I hope we can start to see more members of the music industry taking action. It can start with things like learning to understand our own limits and providing better resources for staff. Resources are really the main thing, I think. Demi Lovato, for example, is showing that mental health support can be provided to fans on a large scale. I also think it’s important to acknowledge that mental health isn’t a standalone problem, but one that’s intrinsically linked to other major issues in the music community. The problems with inequality and sexism go hand-in-hand with creating poor mental health in music.
People with certain invisible illnesses, disabilities and behavioural and mental health issues, find it incredibly hard to go to gigs/festivals. How could those sorts of events be improved to make it seem possible, and perhaps less daunting for people?
We recently took part in a safe space program at Unify Gathering in Australia. They created designated ‘chill out’ zones for people to escape to, with mental health resources and support staff if needed. Ensuring that events have these areas, as well as helplines and signage for anyone who feels unsafe is vital in creating a positive and supportive atmosphere for everyone. I’m also a firm believer that Virtual and Augmented Reality will help many of us experience live music without feeling vulnerable in the not-so-distant future.
Don’t Fret has been going from strength to strength, with more and more great content, fab merch, zines and so on. What else have you got planned for the year ahead?
As well as releasing more regular podcasts, I’ll be appearing at more zine fairs and live events. You may also see us at more festivals and maybe even on tours! We’re also partnering with record labels on projects and continuing our work with headspace to help reach even more music fans who may need support for mental health.
What apps, websites, channels would you recommend as good sources of information and/comfort, or that you use yourself for maintaining or improving your mental health?
Hopefully our podcast, but also any podcasts and audio books which help you to tune out from things for a moment. Apps like Headspace are great too, and any meditation, yoga or mindfulness exercises. Personally I also do kinesiology to ease instances where mental health takes its toll on me physically.
Is there a quote or piece of advice that particularly sticks out from one of your podcasts?
Our episode with Camp Cope was particularly empowering for me because it was the first time sexism and misogyny in music had properly been addressed on the podcast. I would recommend that episode to anyone who feels as though negative mental health impacts their sense of self. Losing your identity and self-worth can be extremely debilitating, and that episode urges everyone to stand by their core beliefs. Our episode with Frank Carter is another special one for me. Frank really embraced the conversation and spoke more candidly than I’d ever heard him do before.
What music do you turn to when you need to de-stress or be soothed after a tough day?
Often anything I can wail at the top of my lungs, like The Hard Aches and The Menzingers.