Music and Mental Health

The SIMS Foundation guarantees access and affordability for musicians seeking mental health services

by Abby Moore
The SIMS Foundation

The tortured artist archetype leads many to understand suffering as the wellspring of art. However, romanticizing that idea can not only diminish the seriousness of mental illness but, says executive director of the SIMS Foundation Heather Alden, it can also trivialize the career of musicians.

According to Dr. Lloyd Berg, clinical health psychologist at the Seton Mind Institute, musicians are two to three times more likely to experience anxiety and depression than the general population. They are also more than three times as likely to commit suicide.

The SIMS Foundation provides mental health services and substance abuse treatment for the Austin music community. These services are extended to individual musicians, bands, music industry professionals and their family members. A network of 120 providers were selected to ensure diversity in care and an understanding of music industry pressures.

SIMS Foundation volunteers helping during the annual SXSW Festival.

“Musicians are not inherently predisposed to mental illness,” Alden says, to combat the common character trope. “They actually have a lot of work stress and work insecurity, which contribute to those statistics.”

Managing interpersonal relationships with bandmates, holding multiple jobs and experiencing instability while touring are just some of the work-induced stressors affecting musicians.

“When talking about doctors, people will comment that ‘they work so hard,’” Alden says. “But when it comes to musicians, they’re often considered lazy. There’s a difference in respect and we want to dispel those negative myths.

Not only do the specially-selected providers acknowledge the challenges of being a musician, they are also easily accessible through the organization. According to Alden, the growing population of Central Texas has led to a dearth in psychiatrists, making it difficult to locate help.

The organization’s namesake Sims Ellison.

For anyone struggling with mental illness, navigating treatment options can be an added burden. The licensed clinicians at SIMS eliminate that burden by assessing clients and providing a personalized pathway to mental wellness.

“People come in not knowing what to do and we show them exactly where to go,” Alden says. “There’s a level of customer service that can’t be found elsewhere and I think that’s important for the success of mental healthcare.”

Along with access, another essential aspect of SIMS is affordability. While clients contribute financially to their own treatment, the foundation offers a sliding scale rate and subsidizes most of the costs. The average SIMS client pays around $13 per counseling session, compared to the average rate of about $75-$150 per session.

The organization served 694 clients last year and that number has already increased by 128 musicians and music industry professionals since the start of 2019. There is no definitive evidence for the spike, but it might be attributed to the reduced stigma in asking for help.

With celebrities like Lady Gaga advocating for mental wellness, people previously ashamed can now feel liberated to share their struggles. Alden notes that television and social media have done a tremendous job in creating a platform for dialogue, which she hopes spreads throughout Austin.

“We know we can help a niche group of Austinites and those Austinites are visual in the community,” Alden says. “If they can be role models for recovery, we think there is value in that.”


Read More From the Music + Film Issue | March 2019


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