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Access hears from mental health charity workers and touring professionals about the work that is being done to support industry workers in their time of need.

Collaboration may have become an events industry buzzword during the pandemic, but it is no more apt than when it comes to mental health. The way in which industry charities are seamlessly working together has helped many event professionals on their road to recovery. The need for mental health support was at an all-time high during Covid but post-pandemic challenges such as the cost-of-living crisis and burnout has only heightened the demand. 

Music Support is collaborating with Backup Tech, Stagehand and the Roadie Cookbook, to raise funds to provide training to enable industry freelancers to become mental health first aiders. The aim is to get one in 20 industry workers trained in mental health first aid. 

Music Support, which provides help for UK music industry workers affected by mental ill-health and/or addiction, hosts safe hubs at festivals up and down the country. It has seen the training uptake, in both mental health first aid and addiction and recovery awareness, increase by 16% year-on-year. 

Lynne Maltman

The charity’s senior marketing and events specialist Lynne Maltman says, “Prior to Covid, people were a lot more reluctant to have a chat with a mental health charity, and Music Support was sort of seen as the ‘fun police’, but it’s not been like that at all. 

“I spoke to someone at BST Hyde Park who told me they had helped their colleague the day before who was struggling, thanks to the training. It’s great to see that ripple effect across the industry. Across the board people are much more in contact with mental health and wellbeing, stigmas have been broken down a lot.” 

Working with tour manager Suzi Green, Music Support also launched its four-hour Addiction and Recovery Training Workshop, which takes place on Zoom each month and has hosted around 260 people in total. 

“We’ve had people all across the industry, from tour managers, who are perhaps concerned about an artist, through to promoters crew and artists themselves,” says Maltman. 

Music Support learning and development specialist Hannah Brinley says she has also noticed more people knowing other mental health first aiders in the industry, and generally being more aware of the importance of resilience and wellbeing when touring: “A lot more people are identifying as neurodiverse in some way. This used to be a rarity, now there is at least one person who has ADHD or similar. People are much more likely than they were to share about it openly, how it’s affected their lives, especially their work lives, and how they manage it. Generally, the pressures post-Covid are the same, the build-up to festival season people are more aware than ever of the likelihood of both festival attendees and crew needing mental health support.” 

The charity’s head of service development and delivery Georgina Levers says its caller presentations have become increasingly complex, and she is currently managing the highest number of cases since she started in February 2021. Levers says new ADHD diagnosis is becoming increasingly common and often co-occurring with addiction, while helpline email volume has increased significantly. 

Are you ok? 

This year more than 150 people have applied for Backup Tech’s AJ Bursary, named after the late Alan Jacobi, former Backup trustee and Unusual Rigging MD and founder. The charity provides financial support to industry technical professionals, crew and production personnel. 

Backup Tech recently held its annual Kartfest, which raised more than £50,000 for the charity – an increase of £15,000 from last year. The event hosted more than 30 live events industry companies, including Unusual Rigging, Creative Technology, Showforce, ESGlobal, Tait, Brit Row, Audia Technica and Event Cycle. As part of the event, the charity launched its Are you OK? campaign, which aims to signpost access to both urgent and non-urgent mental health support, with a focus on freelancers who are not otherwise supported. 

“I know first-hand the impact that mental health issues can have,” says Autograph managing director and Backup trustee Scott Arnold, who is open about his general anxiety disorder. “It’s wonderful to see these companies already getting behind the message to ensure the resource is utilised in an industry where mental health support has not always been a priority.” 

“A lot more people are identifying as neurodiverse in some way.”

Post Covid, the demand for counselling has gone through the roof, according to both Tamsin Embleton, director of the Music Industry Therapist Collective (MITC) and Backup Tech’s Jess Allen. 

Allen says that since February Backup Tech has gone from two to three cases a month to the same number per week: “There’s still a stigma, that will take a while to go, but it’s going in the right direction.” 

The charity offers three types of support – a hardship fund, medical grants and wellbeing support. 

“Before people would normally need only one of them, whereas now they need two or three,” says Allen. “Things have got a lot more complex, which is probably a sign of the world currently. Last year was so busy, it was the first full year back from Covid for a lot of freelancers and they took all the work that they could get. Many got to the end of the year or beginning of this year and hit a wall.” 

Jess Allen

While traditionally the charity would deal with experienced event professionals, Allen says more young people are now asking for help due to the knock-on effects of the pandemic: “We provide counselling grants as well, because the waiting list for counselling through the NHS can be up to a year just to get an initial diagnosis.” 

Allen, like Maltman, Brinley and Levers, has noticed cases of neurodiversity on the rise, which will be covered in an upcoming seminar at this year’s PLASA Show. Allen says she has seen more people getting a diagnosis of autism or ADHD later in life: “Our industry can attract a lot of neurodiverse people which is great, but sometimes the worry is that as an industry, are we unknowingly taking advantage of somebody who might well just keep going until they fix the problem? Which might be at the cost of their health.” 

The Back Lounge 

Tour manager Suzi Green’s online music industry support group, The Back Lounge, has seen huge success since launching during the pandemic. Having felt “devastated and uncertain” after having to put her mortgage on hold while out of work, Green found solace in her North American contemporaries, and was inspired by US charity Backline Care, which held support group sessions each week. 

Still operating on Zoom, The Back Lounge continues to attract event professionals from Europe and across the Atlantic, with different guests each week, including psychotherapists who have a connection to the music industry. 

Suzi Green

While the group mainly attracted seasoned professionals during the pandemic, Green, who has managed tours for Wolf Alice, Placebo, PJ Harvey and The Chemical Brothers, says there is a growing number of people new to the industry who are joining. 

Green says that since the pandemic, uncertainty around crew shortages is often a cause of anxiety for event professionals, along with the issue of crew working extended shifts: “People’s stress rates are much higher and the job is even more uncertain. Tours are still getting cancelled all the time due to the economic crisis and touring has become much less viable. 

“[Working very long hours] doesn’t really exist in any other industry but it’s been got away with in touring for so long because everything is a bit ‘rock n’ roll’ and macho. That culture needs to change.”