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The suicide of Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington has led to renewed calls for radical change in how the music industry deals with mental health crises
By Jon Chapple on 21 Jul 2017
The death of Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington, who took his own life yesterday aged 41, has once again thrust into the spotlight the issue of mental health in the music industry.
Several industry figures contacted by IQ in the aftermath of Bennington’s passing, which comes just two months after the suicide of his close friend, Chris Cornell, have expressed sadness at the singer’s suicide – but not surprise. Tour manager Andy Franks (Coldplay, The Rolling Stones, Depeche Mode) describes a culture in which vulnerable people are allowed to “fall through the cracks”.
“It’s a terrible, terrible shame, but not a shock,” says Franks, who now runs the charity Music Support, which, among other services, operates a 24/7 phoneline for execs, artists, crew and techs struggling with their mental health and provides ‘Safe Tents’ at music festivals. “Our business is one of highs and lows – gratification followed by extreme isolation and loneliness – and it’s very difficult to look after your mental health during the low periods.”
Another charity offering mental-health support services to the music industry is Help Musicians UK (HMUK), whose chief executive, Richard Robinson, says what’s currently lacking in the industry is a unified, international clinical response to poor mental health.
HMUK’s recent Can Music Make You Sick? survey revealed almost three quarters of respondents – all professional musicians – had experienced episodes of anxiety and depression, with more than half saying they felt underserved by the support available currently.
The charity is constantly “pushing forward to find solutions and services” to change that, says Robinson, who reveals HMUK is working with partners internationally on launching a “global service” to support those in need, wherever they are in the world.
“There’s an element of good that befriending can do,” he explains. “If people can talk to musicians who already have experience of mental-health problems, alcoholism or addiction, that’s a fantastic service – but there has to a clinical response, too. That’s what’s missing.
“Support doesn’t need to cost a huge amount, but it is vital every single company is equipped”
“If an artist of Chester’s high profile had a terrible issue [on tour] in another country, at the moment there’s no global service there to support him.”
While HMUK works on the launch of its international network of music biz-centric mental health provision (“We don’t want to turn it into a celebratory moment,” comments Robinson. “The fact is there have been far too many tragedies that have pushed the industry into this situation”), Robinson notes the service “will never replace” those offering emotional support for those in distress, existing side by side with organisations such as Music Support or, more generally, the Samaritans.
Franks says Music Support’s focus is on preventing tragedies like Bennington’s suicide by acting before it spirals into a crisis.
While charities such as Music Support do what they can with limited resources – “Even if we were 5,000 octopuses, we still wouldn’t have enough hands to do everything,” Franks comments – Franks says he believes mental health is still a “grey area” when it comes to obligations. He explains. “There was one major concert cancelled recently. Most people working there were freelancers – who looks after them when they don’t have any work?
“Management were looking after the artist, promoters were saying, ‘Should we be looking after this situation?’, even if it’s outside their remit… It’s a grey area. No one really wants to take responsibility.”
Away from the charitable sector, professional associations such as the Music Managers Forum (MMF) are also taking the lead in raising awareness of mental illness and providing practical advice and assistance to those working in the industry.
MMF’s Music Managers’ Guide to Mental Health, backed by both Music Support and HMUK, was launched in May at The Great Escape in Brighton. General manager Fiona McGugan tells IQ the music industry “should be a world leader in understanding, providing support and being preventative in this area, and it is our ability to educate ourselves and others that will create the most change.”
“It’s very difficult to look after your mental health during the low periods”
Mental-health support, she adds, “doesn’t need to cost a huge amount, but it is vital every single company is equipped, particularly when it comes to crisis management”.
Robinson says mental health is increasingly “becoming a talking point” in the music business, but that it has “taken some seismic shocks to push the industry into a response”. “It shouldn’t take a horrific circumstance like this to put mental health back on the agenda,” he comments.
While raising awareness of the issue is important, says Franks, removing ‘the stigma’ around mental illness counts for little without concrete measures to back it up.
He suggests a fund, paid into by industry organisations, as a good first step towards rectifying that: “People are falling through the cracks. It’s high time action was taken. We have all these conferences, you hear the great and the good talk about these things, but what actually happens when they leave?
“A fund, with everybody putting into it, would help. Should there be a levy on ticket sales? Could the PRS pay in? Should government contribute? They’re happy enough to take the VAT on ticket money…”
He calls on those working in the business to get in touch if they feel they can be of assistance. “I’m always being told by promoters, managers, agents, ‘We’d really like to help’,” Franks explains. “Well, now’s your chance: Help!”
Equally, says Robinson, HMUK is here to play its part – as it has for almost a century – in what he calls a “challenge for the global music industry”: “What I want the industry to see is that the third sector is really stepping up.”
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