Mental Health Awareness Week – Music Support: Chris Dwyer, Volunteer

17May, 2019

To celebrate Mental Health Awareness Week 2019, we are running a series of guest blogs focusing on the role of music in mental health from some of the initiatives we work closely with including the BRIT School, Nordoff Robbins, Music Support, Key4Life, Help Musicians & more.

I’m Chris Dwyer and I have been volunteering with the charity Music Support since October 2017, so I am one of the first wave of volunteers. I’ve worked in music for over 20 years mainly at major labels like Universal where I was in international and UK marketing. I’m still involved in the industry but for the past 18 months I’ve also been training as a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist.

My role as a volunteer involves me working on the Music Support helpline and backstage in the Safe Hubs at major UK music festivals. All our volunteers have industry experience as well as being trained in mental health. So, we get it when someone says they have a creative block or that their performance anxiety is crippling. We understand callers saying that life on tour can be challenging or they don’t know how to live a normal life when they come off the tour ‘bubble’.

The helpline is predominantly a listening service. Listening sounds like a small thing but often it’s just what’s needed. Many of our callers are affected by anxiety and depression, others struggling with addiction problems. Loss and adjustment are a common thread in other stories. When you’re feeling like this it’s easy to withdraw and become isolated, reaching out to others feels too hard. The Music Support mantra is ‘you are not alone’ and we try to convey it on our calls, in mails and whenever we meet people.

Some of our callers just need to chat, to share how they’re feeling and have someone listen. They say it helps if it’s someone who gets the industry pressures. Others want practical help whether it be signposting to other mental health services, or to be connected with clinical professionals. Music Support has a great and growing network of therapists who have inside, lived experience of the industry, as well as clinical excellence. These are an amazing resource and we have made a lot of connections for callers – but the callers are always in control. So long as we feel they can stay safe we’re happy to simply be a listening ear.

We do step in for those in crisis and can offer access to urgent care including for; substance misuse, addiction, self-harm and suicidal thoughts. We operate with strict confidentiality, but with a client’s permission, volunteers can occasionally get feedback on progress. It’s not an easy road back from a mental health crisis and we’re realistic about what we can do. Still, it’s a good feeling to hear someone is doing OK and has a plan going forward and people around them.

In most cases I feel I’ve been able to make a difference to callers. However, it can be challenging as a volunteer when you feel that you have not been able to help someone who calls. You have to accept that there is no magic solution and the end outcome is beyond your control. You just keep trying to do what is really quite a small yet powerful job of listening. It’s helpful that we have on duty peer supervision, if needed, to share any issues with. Also, the volunteers meet regularly for professional supervision, so we have an opportunity to check in, raise issues or share things going on for us, and talk about how we have been affected by the work.

At festivals the Music Support Safe Hub offers a safe space backstage for anyone needing it. We welcome anyone looking for a calm space, a chat or practical help. Or, if you see us just drop by and say hello! If you can’t get to the tent we can be spotted over a cuppa in catering, or out and about, both front-of-house and backstage. Getting the word out at festivals is a great way to raise awareness whilst reminding ourselves what a great positive force music is.

Like the whole Music Support team, I’m passionate about prevention and not just being there when things go wrong. We’re looking to the future whilst helping people now. Music Support can play a part in raising awareness, educating and building resilience. I think education and training within the industry, especially with the next generation, is another step to secure a brighter future for music and mental health. There is so much more awareness of mental health in the industry in recent years. People are talking about it and there is an openness and a wish for change. That’s really positive so my message is Great start in changing things -but let’s not take our foot off the gas!

I’m excited to be a small part of the Music Support family going into 2019, 2020 and beyond. Music Support is growing and will be helping more and more people. We are welcoming more volunteers all the time. The charity has had a tangible effect on lives, and we have all seen it work. So, hats off to The BRIT Trust, Festival Republic and other partners for all the help they have given Music Support and I wish everyone a positive Mental Health Awareness Week!

If you see us at a festival do say hi – and tell all your friends to spread the word too.