Music Minds Matter

#WMHD: Joe Hastings on the Importance of Music Minds Matter

Music Minds Matter is a single-focus charity created by Help Musicians to support people in the music industry who suffer from mental health issues. With correspondence from Amazon Music and Warner Music International, the charity aims to fund income for mental health schemes and drive awareness and engagement in the industry on the issue.

With many high-profile musicians like Shawn Mendes and Arlo Parks cancelling tours due to mental health, this charity is key to helping artists deal with their mental health in a healthy way. With it being World Mental Health Day, we sat down with Joe Hastings, the Head of Music Minds Matter, to discuss the work the charity is doing and how they have helped change the issues around mental health in the industry.

Joe Hastings-Head of Music Minds Matter

Mental Health Is A Prevalent Problem In Society. What Is The Main Change That Your Charity Aims To Do, To Help Tackle The Issue?

The main output of our support is to try and ensure that the conversations are happening. We’re part of the community and we’re engaging actively in conversations around mental health. We’re providing a service for people who need support, be that therapy or a listening ear through the support line or through group activity, where we actively engage with people and encourage people to talk about their experiences. All of that is about our passion to create the lasting changes needed in the industry and this enduring principle of mental health and the positive outputs for people of having mental health and maintaining mental health. The focus for us is on trying to deal with some of the key issues, trying to support people to remove some of those barriers to accessing treatment and support, advice, and resources. But, also being part of the conversation within the industry, which will hopefully lead to the kind of positive change needed.

That seems like a very clear and precise intro to what your aims are. I think that’s important because through what I’ve seen as a general person, not a musician, getting help can be difficult. You have to go through various numbers or websites; ‘Oh, you’re not in this catchment area, you need to go to this one.’ I think that’s very important.

All of the services are free 24/7. We have one route in for people if they want to talk to someone about their experiences. But, we’ve also got a digital platform where people can engage with resources and listen to people’s stories around their own experiences and listen to professionals talking about what can help. The idea is we try and encourage people to use the services and not create any barriers or there being any cost implications for individuals to access the services that are available.

The Charity Works With People In Labels For Warner and Amazon Music. Through Those Discussions, Have You Noticed Any Issues That Have Arisen Due To The Structures Or The Demands of Labels?

We wouldn’t identify anything specific around any kind of key relationships and engagement. It’s true that what we see commonly are general challenges of working in this industry: anti-social hours, the precarious nature of employment and the prevalence of depression and anxiety in the music industry are really common. We’ve had a 30% increase in calls in the last year on the back of us coming out of the global pandemic.

My observations are these are common challenges in this sector. What’s been really positive over the last few years is the level of engagement from across the industry in trying to find ways to move forward and build on a good basis of mental health, and support available to try and improve the overall mental health of people working in this sector. I’ve been heartened by the levels of engagement from across the industry in trying to look at how we can improve the mental health of everyone.

That shows a desire from the big corporations and the big labels. (It’s good) that there is a desire there to help others and to make sure that their artists are getting the help that they need and deserve.

One thing that’s really clear is that each label now has its own offer to its artists. There are really good examples of support services that have been made available for artists. That’s happened over the last few years, and that’s a positive development. We want to encourage that. We’re not here to say ‘Music Minds Matter‘ is everything. We acknowledge that there are some really important developments that are happening for people in other areas of the sector, as well.

What Is Your Role At The Company And What Have You Seen Through Your Time In The Music Industry That Led You Down This Path?

I’m the head of Music Minds Matter. I have been heading up a lot of the development work around Music Minds Matter. But, I was also in a previous role, very heavily involved in setting up the initial service that we built up off the back of research we did in 2016/17. I’ve been involved from the start of the development of Music Minds Matter and going a bit further back, I was a professional musician. I used to write music for TV and Films, occasionally I still do when I have time. My background was in music and I also worked in social services and the social care sector for a number of years, as well. I had quite a good combination of experiences through those areas.

My passion for the subject is that I can see there’s a need and we’re seeing a growing need. But, I’m also aware of what can help. Through the partnerships we have developed, I think we’ve built a really good range of services and support for people working in this sector. I’m confident with time and more engagement across the industry, that we’ll see a really positive shift which I can see happening, but we need to keep working together and building on that.

When You Get Into Contact With An Artist, Is It One To One Help, Or Do You Try And Get People Around Them Involved In The Conversation, Like The Managers?

It depends on how people use the service, as there are different areas of the office. (It’s dependent on) whether people are interacting with the MMM explore platform or calling the support line. The common route to accessing direct support is through the support line. That is very individually focused, so it would be hard for more than one person to be making a call. The individual call support line, they (the artist) talk to a BACP-approved therapist. They have a therapeutic conversation, they talk about whatever they’re experiencing. Commonly, that has a significant impact, and people are able to take a lot away from that conversation and implement some of the exercises and resources in what they’re experiencing and things they find challenging and that’s enough. For people who need more support, they can be signposted through to access therapy with a therapist as well. There is quite a broad offer.

We don’t include anyone else in that kind of discussion or conversation, for quite good reasons as clinically an individual’s mental health experience needs to be focused on and directed with them. We don’t want to be in a situation where we’re possibly doing something that might impact on their mental health. We focus on the individual. Actually, in a lot of the peer support groups and a lot of the other support we’re offering, we’re actively engaging with partners from across the industry. The intention here is to build a network of really healthy conversations that are happening across the industry and they include anyone in the industry.

Music Minds Matter is a service for anyone in the industry. It’s not just focused on artists, songwriters, composers, performers. It’s there for anyone in the industry. We don’t differentiate between the people we support and the people we don’t support, it’s there for everyone and that’s at the heart of the structure of Music Minds Matter, that’s a focus for us. Everyone can experience mental health challenges in this industry and everyone therefore should be supported.

One Of The Things I Noticed When Doing My Research And What I’ve Seen In General Is A Lot Of Artists Are Cancelling Tours Due To Mental Health Issues, Stress, Exhaustion, And Losing Their Voice. Do You Think The Managers of Artists/ Labels Need To Give Artists More Control Over How Long And When They Tour, To Help With These Issues?

I can’t comment on individual situations there. My feeling is a lot of what we’re trying to do across the charity is to empower individuals, bands, and people working in the sector to make those kinds of sound judgements. It’s not to say they weren’t before. But, with the fullness of understanding, that can be challenging; making decisions with all that knowledge there. That’s why we’ve been running the self-care sessions where we’re offering access to resources and exercises, so people can self-identify things that are particularly challenging to them.

From our perspective, we want to try and encourage people to be empowered to make decisions on the basis of what they know they can manage, what they know is possible, and where they see vulnerability. Just going back to (an earlier) point, we’re seeing from across the industry a lot of positive engagement from people and organisations around trying to find the most effective way of supporting people to have those kinds of happy/healthy experiences in the sector. It’s not to say it’s a perfect system. It’s obviously not and you mentioned some quite high-profile instances recently where people have had to cut short tours or cancel dates.

What I would say on that is the thing that I saw in those articles and from what the musicians had said, which is something that I think is positive, is that they’re articulating the things that they are finding challenging and they’re articulating why it’s not something that they can continue. That kind of rational thought process shows that those artists have a good understanding of their mental health and the things that challenge their mental health. Again, it’s not an ideal situation and you hope people get the support they need and are able to access that. But, it’s a positive sign that people are able to acknowledge those things that are issues and be public and talk about those things being issues. All of this is something that didn’t exist five years ago, these conversations weren’t happening. People weren’t acknowledging some of the limitations or challenges they were finding in their careers. I think there are some really good things to take away from some really difficult situations and we can all learn from that in this sector.

The fact that artists are recognising they need to slow down tour-wise, is a positive step. As you said, through the conversations you’re having, artists will have a better understanding of why they are struggling to do as many tour dates as they may be expected to or thought they’d be able to do previously.

I think as well, people (fans) are starting to realise now. While they will be disappointed they can’t see their favourite artist, they probably recognised before, but maybe more so now with the awareness of mental health, that they (artists) are human beings, they can’t run like machines. They need to have time off or stop sometimes. These conversations being had and people recognising them, labels being supportive and understanding, is definitely a positive step.

And I think it would be wrong to acknowledge that we’ve just been through a pandemic that has lasted a significant amount of time. Thinking about things like financial insecurity and all those kind of things that potentially can prove difficult, everyone is feeling that at the moment. That can impact on people’s mental health, alongside a lot of the fallout of Brexit and the uncertainty that’s come out of that situation. There’s a lot that’s out of the control of the musician, and that is potentially playing on the musician’s mind and what they’re experiencing.

With The Charity, Do You Have Any Events You Have Planned That You’d Like To Use As An Opportunity To Allow People Within The Industry To Come Down To And What Would Your Goals Be With These Events?

Importantly, we’re starting up our self-care sessions again In October. We’ve evaluated the self-care sessions and we have come up with some minor tweaks, but it’s the same structure. Those self-care sessions are for anyone in the industry. The dates are TBC, but keep a look out for them because we’ve seen a good level of engagement with them and a really good impact in terms of how it’s been positively helping people working in the sector.

They are focused around self-care, so people take away from the sessions resources, exercises, and things that can help around an array of subjects that focus on positive well-being: managing low mood, how to manage performance anxiety, and helping with change. It’s quite a broad range of subject areas and the idea is for people to interact with the sessions and then what they take away is resources and exercises to manage whatever the specific area of focus is. They’re on the horizon. Later in October, the first session will start, but we will be promoting those over the coming weeks.

The same with the support groups, they are groups open to anyone and they’re always available. The idea of the peer support groups is to offer people the opportunity to listen and be listened to about whatever they’re experiencing, so it’s quite open. They’re run over six sessions. Again, they are on our website so you can find links to register if people are interested in those.

We also have industry events and I do quite a lot of public speaking. I’ll be at the Musicians Union Conference in Leeds in October. On World Mental Health Day, we are bringing together notable people from across the industry to an event called ‘Mental Health in Music: Leading Positive Change.’ The idea there is to try and actively encourage these important conversations to happen and continue happening.

What Are Some of the Positive Experiences You’ve Had Working With This Charity That Have Made You See Its Benefits And Its Message Getting Through?

The most positive experiences and insights I have are there’s a measurement scale used before and after therapy. For depression or low mood, they use a depression scale which is called a PHQ-9 and for anxiety, they use a GAD-7, which is a general anxiety disorder. They’re standardised assessment tools.

Just seeing in our reporting the impact through BAPAM, who is our partner that delivers the therapy. But, seeing the impact of those sessions in terms of how much it’s reducing people’s depression and anxiety on that scale is not just heartening, but it’s transforming people’s situations around their mental health, which I think is incredibly powerful.

Whilst those things can just look like stats, it is also a really good because it can be quite hard to measure the impact of therapy without using a scale to show that. Coupling that with the feedback we get from people across the work we do, hearing the really positive changes that people have been able to make as a result of the interventions that have been made available to them, the way people are able to manage their careers differently, how it’s improved their relationships. It’s transformational (to see) the change and that’s something I and everyone involved with Music Minds Matter should be incredibly proud of.

But, I’m not ignoring the fact that there is a lot more that we need to do. There are also a lot more people in this industry that need to know about Music Minds Matter and need to know as and when it’s best for them to use the services available. There’s loads of work to do, but it’s incredibly heartening to see how much of an impact it’s having on so many people, that’s really positive.

Help Musicians is on Instagram and Twitter. You can find there website and contact details here.

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