Mental health in dance music: How to create healthier work environments
This week is Mental Health Awareness Week.
We also caught up with Higher Ground’s Chloé Abrahams-Duperry, who works with Mental Health First Aid England and Applause for Thought to organise Mental Health First Aider courses for those working in the UK music industry. The course is designed to give applicants an in-depth understanding of mental health factors, and teaches them how to step in to support people in distress. Abrahams-Duperry first launched the initiative in 2020, and the fifth group of applicants are currently in training. We spoke to her about some of the challenges artists face on the road, and practical solutions on how the dance music industry can create healthier environments for its workers.
I heard about the Mental Health First Aid England qualification a couple of years ago and it immediately felt like something that would complement my role as a booking agent. From the years of being an assistant at Coda Agency, I felt like there was more to my role than booking shows and doing logistics. I’m very conscious of the control we have; essentially, we’re responsible for 40 percent of an artist’s week – where they’re travelling to, the time they are playing and where they’ll be sleeping. There have been times where I’ve felt that I’ve been in situations that require more knowledge of mental health issues, and this course has given me the tools to be more aware and equipped.
Recent research has shown that “people working in the music industry are more prone to mental health problems than the general population, with musicians being up to three times more likely to suffer from depression”. In the first aid course, we’re taught about the Mental Health Continuum, which is a way of looking at how our mental health is fluid and changes over time. All the main triggers that we are taught are the core factors of the dance music industry itself. Lack of sleep, bad diet, work pressure, drugs and alcohol abuse, lack of routine, social isolation – if you travel alone, for example – and peer pressure are key triggers. While some of these are unavoidable, the more we discuss and acknowledge that these do affect our mental health, the more we normalise the conversation.
Courtesy of Chloé Abrahams-Duperry
As an agent, I think a lot about how an act is getting from A to B, looking at set times not just in a ‘best slot’ sense, but also taking into consideration the itinerary for the entire weekend. If someone has travel anxiety or feels lonely on the road, I’ll introduce the idea of a travel buddy or tour manager. Some symptoms are more obvious than others. If someone is having a panic attack that’s quite clear – but mental health can also be completely undercover. It’s important to check in on everyone around you because even with the most upbeat and extroverted people, you never really know what might be going on behind closed doors.
To create better support, one idea is to ensure there’s a designated private room backstage or on tour for people who need space. Companies should be putting aside a budget for yoga classes and free fruit and vegetables in the kitchen, or start a running club. The goal should always be to encourage open dialogue with colleagues and artists. Companies should also consider training team members with courses such as Mental Health First Aid or Good Night Out Campaign – which works with nightlife spaces and organisations to better understand, respond to, and prevent sexual harassment and assault.
“People working in the music industry are more prone to mental health problems than the general population”
The music industry needs to be openly acknowledging that we can do better, but there has been a shift over the pandemic. I was so pleasantly surprised with how many people have wanted to qualify as Mental Health First Aiders. I started my initiative in December 2020, and I have a fifth group who started their training this week – which totals to 78 people from the music industry qualifying through the collaboration I have with MHFA England and Applause for Thought. I hope that this keeps going when things start getting busy again. That’ll be the real test – to see if what we’re discussing and learning now will be put into action.
This week, Mind launched a series of mental health resources for the electronic music sector. Head here to access specific guides for managers, employees and freelancers.