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How to stay sane on tour

Posted on July 19, 2018
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A few months ago, Support Act launched its Wellbeing Helpline, a service that offers 24/7 professional counselling to anybody working in Australian music.

The free and confidential service offers expertise in all areas related to mental health (e.g. depression, anxiety, addiction, suicidal ideation), but also those related to mental health (such as loneliness, relationship breakdown, financial worries, illness and workplace conflict).

Support Act has since teamed up with the gang at Levi’s and a bunch of Australian music legends to further tackle the important issue of mental health in the industry.

The collaboration has seen two organisations band together to produce the “Tune Ups – Mindfulness Tips for Musos and more” awareness campaign, and produce a range of limited edition band shirts, with 100% of the proceeds directly helping the music industry through the work of Support Act.

It’s no secret that the music industry is rife with mental illness. In 2015, a study commissioned by Entertainment Assist and conducted by Victoria University found suicide attempts in the entertainment industry were happening twice as frequently as the rest of the population.

It also discovered those in the industry are 10 times more likely to suffer anxiety than the rest of the population.

A recent investigation by Help Musicians UK found that of 2,000 musicians interviewed, 71% experience anxiety and 68.5% deal with depression. The need for more accessible and comprehensive mental health care support for those in this industry is imperative.

Upon setting up the Wellbeing Helpline, Support Act consulted research teams in Australia and New Zealand who suggested people working in creative industries face unique challenges in relation to their mental health when compared to other sectors.

Support Act’s Chief Executive, Clive Miller explains the necessity of the operation:

“The service is a response to colleagues who work in the music industry who highlighted the devastating impact that mental health issues can have on individuals, bands and their families,” he said.

“Our research indicated that a specialised service specifically tailored to the unique challenges faced by artists and music workers would be of enormous benefit to all people working in our industry.”

The effects of mental illness can often be an isolating experience, with so many facets of being a touring musician that can take a toll on one’s mental health. This is why the Wellbeing Helpline is vital for those working within the paradigm of music.

Musicians will often be away from their family or support network for prolonged periods of time. They don’t have the stability, both financially and within their daily routines, that people in most other industries do. It’s a harsh landscape.

To further shine a light on the issue, we asked the team at Support Act, alongside The Preatures and Bad//Dreems to provide us with some pragmatic tips and tools to help musicians that may be struggling to keep their mental health in check on the road. Here is what they had to say:

The Preatures

The Preatures' Isabella Manfredi wearing the band's Support Act t-shirt
The Preatures’ Isabella Manfredi wearing the band’s Support Act t-shirt

Jack Moffitt:

“Don’t trash the meat-vehicle you call a body – show it all the love you can, always take care of the driver. Buy a camera, and get out of the motel room, go and see what life really looks like, and make memories.”

Isabella Manfredi:

“I recently learned Vedic Meditation, which is basically the same as Transcendental Meditation. I usually meditate on the plane or in the van and it helps me to release stress and built-up fatigue.”

Luke Davison:

“Remind yourself that everyone is on tour together. Eat and sleep well when you can and don’t worry when you can’t, because stressing is lame for your body. Play fun card games. Read a book. Remember we do music because it’s the best.”

Bad//Dreems

Bad//Dreems’ James Bartold and Miles Wilson wearing the band's Support Act t-shirt
Bad//Dreems’ James Bartold and Miles Wilson wearing the band’s Support Act t-shirt

Alex Cameron of Bad//Dreems penned a candid letter addressing the trials and tribulations that come with being a touring musician. Cameron also offered a thoughtful take on how to address these difficulties in a healthy way.

Alex Cameron: 

If you wanted to construct a psychological experiment to elicit psychopathology in a given Individual or group, then a touring band would be the ideal design. Mixing creatively minded people with fatigue, boredom, financial stress, ego, drugs and alcohol creates a veritable psychological pressure cooker. 

In Bad//Dreems our touring is mainly comprised of weekends of one, two or three shows. In between these, we will usually be returning to our day jobs. I think we’d all agree that this is a double-edged sword. It’s often really stressful coordinating a touring schedule with work, and Mondays are often even more terrifying than usual. On the other hand, it does help to retain a sense of normalcy and the thought of Monday morning is usually enough to keep overindulgence in check. 

I’m sometimes envious of bands that get to tour for months at a time, without having to step back and forth between these two worlds. But by all accounts, this kind of touring brings with it stresses of a different kind.

Over our time together I think we have become good foils for each other in terms of touring stress. We know each other well enough to recognise when someone is not doing as well and what it takes to support that person.

Everyone has different stressors and different ways their stress manifests; we’re pretty attuned to this now.

The tour van is also a great place to debrief about stresses in our lives away from the band.

Personally, I find touring quite anxiety provoking. I don’t feel particularly nervous about playing but there’s always a vague uneasiness during the day of a show. I tend to like to spend time alone for a bit of the day.

Over the years I think the others have got used to this and don’t see it as any slight on their company. I think others in the band feel more comfortable with people around.

I always bring books to read and good headphones. I like to walk around the city that we are in and call people on the phone. Lately, I’ve even been going for runs or to the gym.

There’s always a lot of downtime on tour and it’s pretty easy to fill this in at the pub. Over the years I think we’ve become more cognisant of this and try to keep a lid on it, especially before we play.

Because of my medical background, friends from the music industry sometimes ask my advice regarding mental health issues. In a lot of cases, they have had unfulfilling experiences with health professionals.

Unfortunately, most doctors aren’t familiar with the music industry milieu and as such aren’t really able to relate to the lifestyle. Substance use still carries quite a stigma too, which can be a stumbling block for the therapeutic relationship.

For this reason, I think Support Act is an amazing organisation which can act as a facilitator between the music industry and health professionals. Also, encouraging dialogue such as this is vital to continue the destigmatisation of mental illness so that it can be better prevented and treated.

Support Act

Support Act have offered some broad tips might include planning ahead to look after your own wellbeing, as well as those around you:

  • Keep the Support Act Wellbeing helpline number in your phone: 1800 959 500 or the website URL.
  • Try to plan ahead: factor in where you can catch up on sleep on rest days, wherever you can.
  • Try and minimise alcohol or other substances; eat as well as you can when you can.
  • Look after your wellbeing; find whatever works for you and stick to it, whether it’s yoga or reading or an app for meditation. Check out Tune Ups: Mindfulness for Musos and More at www.supportact.org.au/tuneups for ideas and tips from some of our artists and industry names.

If you’re interested in Support Act’s collaboration with Levi’s, head along to this website for more information about the Tune Ups campaign.

Are you worried about your own mental health? Or worried about someone else? The Support Act Wellbeing Helpline is accessible 24 hours a day, 365 days a year by calling 1800 959 500 within Australia.