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Music Artists Are Amplifying The Mental Health Conversation

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The third incarnation of Sound Mind rolls into southern California on May 20 and as the world continues to cope with the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, the music festival created to spark dialog around mental health support is hitting differently this year. 

All Time Low, Fitz and the Tantrums, Lovelytheband, Charlotte Lawrence, Matthew Logan Vasquez of Delta Spirit and Ian Sweet will take the stage at the socially distanced event, which also will livestream on YouTube and Facebook through Consequence Media.

Founded as a grassroots movement that drew a few hundred attendees in its first year, Sound Mind 2021 will welcome thousands of live fans for a drive-in show, and top-lining acts with larger platforms to help end the stigma around mental health. Proceeds from the event will benefit affiliates of NAMI, which provides free programs and services to individuals facing mental health issues through their local affiliates around the country.

“The response from the music community has been huge,” says Sound Mind founder Chris Bullard, a musician who formerly toured with Willie Nelson and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when he was in his 20s. 

“The biggest difference is now it’s so top of mind for everyone. Whether you’ve struggled with a diagnosed mental health condition or this is the first time you’re thinking about mental health because there are increased pressures of the pandemic or the financial strain and the increased sense of isolation… we’ve all gone through this collective trauma this past year,” Bullard says. 

A recent CDC study found that 41 percent of individuals are experiencing adverse mental health conditions due to the pandemic, with 75 percent of young adults reporting these conditions. The music industry and individual artists, many of whom already were in dialog with their fans about mental health, is cranking up the dial. 

MTV Entertainment Group launched an initiative to establish May 20 as Mental Health Action Day, and thus far has signed on more than 1,000 companies and organizations and garnered support from musicians including Selena Gomez and JoJo. Hayley Williams, lead singer of the band Paramore who’s been outspoken about her struggle with depression, recently teamed with remote counseling service BetterHelp. Imagine Dragons’ Dan Reynolds has been sharing his mental health struggles as the band prepares to release its fifth studio album. To name a few.

A Paradigm Shift

“I do feel optimistic a paradigm shift is happening,” says Alex Gaskarth, lead singer of All Time Low. “The conversation is more at the forefront than it ever has been, and that’s very important and needs to continue to be pushed.”

Gaskarth says All Time Low’s dialog with fans about mental wellness has evolved through the years. “A lot of it stemmed from fans speaking about things they were going through in their lives, and how our music helped them through tough times. It was moving that people were reaching out and connecting on a much deeper level with us through our music. It got us thinking about how healing and helpful music is, and it all coalesced into a realization that the conversation just needed to be had,” he says.

“It’s about removing stigmas of not being able to speak to these things. I came out of a generation where with our parents, some of those issues weren’t discussed because it didn’t feel proper,” Gaskarth adds. “It became a big thing for us to create a healthy safe environment where people could feel like it was OK to say, ‘This is going on with me and I’m not sure what to do.’ And from there it turned into us trying to be more active in the space and cultivate and nurture causes that were promoting mental health awareness.”

For Fitz and the Tantrums, whose 2019 album was notably titled All The Feels, “the band has been very conscious about being very open about our own personal struggles,” says co-lead vocalist Noelle Scaggs. 

“The way we approach our songs and the difficulty of the process, and for me… all the troubles I’ve had for the majority of my life and my own mental health issue. To be really open about that has been helpful and maybe inspiring for fans,” she says. “It takes away the stigma, and I know with other artists this is becoming a big topic of discussion. I love that more people are allowing their vulnerability to be a platform for folks to say it’s OK to talk about these things and not feel like they’ll be labeled as such or lose their job. It’s about being more honest and gaining a better understanding of ourselves.”

Broadening the Lens

Scaggs, who founded initiative Diversify the Stage to help the concert, events and touring industries increase diverse representation, says it’s time conversations around mental health happen on a broader scale.

“It’s about looking at the paths of the BIPOC community and how different they are from people who don’t identify with those communities, and being respectful of that,” she says. “And if you are offering mental health services, looking at that lens of education that needs  to happen with counselors so there’s some identification that can happen.”

For musicians, the healing that occurs when they open the conversation with fans can run both ways.

“I can definitely empathize with depression and anxiety,” says Vasquez. “I’ve had pretty heavy bouts with both of them and continue to work on that. I do feel like our culture is definitely skewed toward more acceptance to those things… It’s about perspective.”

Gaskarth is quick to note the benefit to the band when All Time Low hosted livestream hangouts with fans during the pandemic. “We felt like they went a long way for the fans, and for us to be honest. It was really good for us as well to connect,” he says.

“People are doing their best to rise to the occasion. For us, it’s about cultivating a culture that is good and kind, and what’s amazing is when we get to speak to these issues it brings in a sentiment our fans can latch onto and share at the shows. It creates an environment that focuses on the betterment of each other, and that’s an important message to push.”



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