Several people near and dear to my heart struggle with mental health. In recent years, through firsthand experience, I’ve gained greater insight into how insidious depression and its frequent accomplice, anxiety, can be.
I’ve learned that most people don’t really grasp how it feels, or what it means, to have anxiety or be depressed, and often casually dismiss these serious disorders as something that is made up or exaggerated. Unlike cancer or a torn ligament which can be diagnosed with blood work or an MRI, there are usually no visual indicators or tests that can provide concrete evidence of mental illness.
Those who lack knowledge of or experience with these issues commonly hold the misconception that sufferers can just will away the illness by simply changing their thinking, or that going on medication will yield a fast improvement. Sometimes medication can be effective if the genesis of the condition is physiological, but depending on the severity, it usually requires ongoing psychological therapy, and can take months or even years to get results.
The road to a healthy mind through medication often can be slow and bumpy, fraught with trial and error and ups and downs. There are no panaceas for mental illness; everyone reacts differently to various medications and dosages. Sometimes medication can actually worsen the condition. Complicating the process further, even obtaining the medication can be a very difficult process because it requires a prescription from a psychiatrist often working in tandem with a psychologist, and unfortunately, procuring a therapist is often much more difficult than it should be. I’ve seen loved ones take months or in some cases years just to find a therapist who accepts their insurance and who is – an even bigger challenge – accepting new patients. That is an eternity for someone to be dealing with a crisis of emotional pain which can paralyze with inertia, destroy appetite and cause all kinds of disruptive and harmful behavior.
Also potentially causing confusion or misunderstanding amongst those close to the afflicted, depressed people can experience times of happiness and levity. Mental illness can be characterized by a roller coaster of emotions. While sufferers may laugh and enjoy themselves, below the surface exists an underlying sense of sadness, loneliness, hopelessness and dread. Like the old adage, you can’t judge a book by its cover.
In the past, I hate to admit that I myself felt a bit skeptical. Prior to my awakening, I had been guilty of eye-rolls behind the back, angry sighs, a cold and unsympathetic response, or even outright contempt and verbal combat, all undermined by my mounting frustration about something I did not properly understand and couldn’t fix.
That may be the most important thing that I have learned about mental illness; as a partner, lover, friend or relative, I alone cannot remedy the affliction. However, I can be a much-needed asset in the rocky road to recovery.
My innate response to the problems that plagued my loved one would be to try to solve them. Now, I know that my loved one does not expect or need me to do that, but instead, to simply listen. Acknowledging their feelings and voicing sympathy or at least understanding all provide comfort. Be present. Knowing that someone will be there for them and that they do not have to go through it alone helps immensely.
Depression can make the easiest of tasks seem insurmountable. What seems like no big deal to a healthy-minded person may seem like climbing a mountain to a depressed person. Therefore, assistance with small acts can actually be a huge help, i.e. making calls to help find a therapist, dealing with insurance issues and things like that. It probably goes without saying, but physical affection can be highly soothing.
One aspect of mental illness that often gets overlooked is the impact on family and friends. Often, depressed people get mired so deep in their illness, that they don’t recognize the harmful effects that it has on those around them. Or, even worse, they know it, and the guilt adds to the problem.
Therefore, patience is key. The path to emotional stability typically takes a long time. For some, depression can be a lifelong condition. Expecting a quick turnaround from a loved one will lead to disappointment and anger and compound the situation due to the added pressure to get well.
Make no mistake, living with someone who suffers from mental illness can be rough. Constant ups and downs, unnecessary drama, extra stress, and the frustration of feeling helpless while a loved one is suffering can really take its toll on a person’s wellbeing. However, keep in mind that as difficult as this can be, it’s exponentially worse for the person with the affliction.
Let’s face it: life is difficult. Sure, for some more than others, based on a myriad of factors. Yet even those with every advantage will struggle emotionally at times. After all, as sentient beings, we all know that ultimately everyone dies. That alone can be a heavy weight to bear, even for those of sound mental health.
Nowadays, with the agonizing pandemic, widespread unemployment and the civil unrest due to the polarization of our citizenry, stresses upon our people have increased exponentially. One particularly hard-hit group of people, of course, are musicians. They have had their livelihoods ripped away with no clear insight into when they may return. Beyond the financial aspect, they, like many others, have had to drastically alter their lifestyle. Surely, their hearts ache, not being able to perform in front of live audiences, the most fulfilling application of their art.
Luckily, people are trying to help. Lighthopelife is a nonprofit suicide prevention foundation that was created “in recognition of, and to fulfill, the critical societal need for people to be able to effectively talk to others who are in crisis.”
Under that umbrella, last fall, a division called Tour Support was created to support “the mental health and wellness of musicians by providing training materials and resources to help build stronger support systems for those on the road.”
Grace Archuleta of Tour Support, spoke to its origin and purpose: “The organization was started in October of 2019 to address the rising numbers of suicides in the live music community. We launched on World Mental Health Day as a statement that the music industry needed to address the critical needs of its artists, crews and vendors. Life on the road has a very specific set of stressors and triggers and our goal is to make sure that every touring member has access to wellness resources and mental health support.”
Given the current world health crisis, she expanded, “The pandemic has completely brought the touring industry to a halt. In response, we are currently offering gratis mental health services for any touring member who has been taken off the road due to the pandemic.”
The Tour Support website states:
In October 2019, Tour Support announced a partnership with BetterHelp, the world’s largest provider of online counseling services, to launch services for artists, crew, and vendors to talk to a therapist by phone, text, or chat anytime, anywhere in the world.
With the advent of COVID-19 in early 2020, Tour Support’s focus has shifted to those now out of work and at home due to cancelled tours. Now more than ever, these professionals need mental health support and helping hands to guide them as the music industry shifts and reconfigures around the absence of live shows.
In addition to offering services to out-of-work professionals right now, Tour Support is continuing to brainstorm and evaluate effective ways to advocate for and provide mental health services to the music industry as it evolves differently than ever before.
Tour Support will be launching trainings and mental health resources as well as a database of mental health professionals for artists and tours to call on as needed. Currently, those with tours impacted by COVID-19 can apply for a free month of BetterHelp counseling, which will allow artists, crew, and vendors to talk to a therapist by phone, text, or chat anytime, anywhere in the world.
To aid the cause, Maryland reggae rockers, Ballyhoo!, will be funneling all proceeds over the first month of their latest single release, “I’ll Be Ok,” to Tour Support. Bandleader Howi Spangler offered these words: “Personally, I haven’t fully figured it out. I’m generally a positive person, but some days are hard, and I have to deal with things in the moment. I’m lucky to have something I love as a form of therapy. To stay on track, I set goals and drive myself to meet them.”
The single was released on 8/20, so that gives Rootfire readers two weeks to add to the band’s donations by streaming on their favorite platform. Of course, music fans are welcome to donate to the cause at any time here: https://www.lighthopelife.org/donate