If you check our #itchysilk Instagram page (please do) we recently posted an image of Kanye West. The image had been taken when Kanye West was suffering another very public deterioration in his bi-polar illness. Due to the media spotlight, it is clear Kanye is one of a number within the entertainment industry who work and live with mental ill health. Think, Britney Spears and Mariah Carey. From the past, Michael Jackson, Kurt Cobain, and Amy Winehouse. The latter two part of the unfortunate 27 Club. Surprise should not be the first thought, however. After all, 1 in 4 of us will at some point suffer from a mental health illness.
Despite a need for mental health support, the music industry has not addressed this chasm. Whether that is due to a blatant dis-regard (though that seems unlikely) or a lack of knowledge (which seems more likely) change is needed.
With World Mental Health Day on the 10th of October fast approaching we spoke to Ian Hurst co-founder of the non-profit organisation We Are Hummingbird. Set up in the wake of personal tragedy, We Are Hummingbird provides mental health support to music artists. Through the organisation’s work, Ian has come to the realisation that even more is needed to safeguard the mental health of music artists*.
We had a conversation with Ian to talk about the lack of help within the music industry and what is needed to fill that gap. The ultimate aim: to protect people who work within the music industry.
Tell us a bit about your journey as a person in the entertainment industry and your mental health.
My background could not be further from the entertainment industry, I worked in corporate insurance for 17 years. However, as an individual with a huge passion for music and creativity, I never really fitted into the corporate world. I started to develop my own mental illness symptoms whilst commuting a lot for work. It was at this point that I started to realise that I did not relate to any of the support services around me. They just did not help me to feel any sense of hope. I realised if I felt this way, there must be millions of other people that do not connect with services or support simply because it is not in their daily sphere.
Here at itchysilk we have hypothesised that the entertainment industry (particularly now) seems to lend itself more to the chances that artists will present with mental health issues-what are your thoughts/experiences?
Totally-the stress and anxiety for an artist to deliver is unbelievable, especially the more successful you become. If an artist can achieve a number 1 or high chart topper, there is instant expectation they can (and should) do it again. We have a misconception in society that money and fame makes you happy. Artists subsequently feel they are not entitled to talk openly about their mental health. Often they say, ‘well who I am to complain, there are people worse off’. It makes no sense. We need to change the perception and allow everyone the freedom to express how they really feel.
While a person maybe “loved by the masses” you do hear artists talk about the fact they are “lonely”. How can that be and why (if it is) is that true?
It is so common for artists to feel isolated. Everything about their life, especially when touring for long periods of time is intense and full on. Weeks or months away from home and creature comforts is a huge risk factor to poor mental health. Combine this with the pressures pre gig, the euphoric highs whilst performing and then the dip back to being sat alone when the show is over. It is a real rollercoaster of emotions. The feeling of isolation is a very real symptom of poor mental health.
Is there enough support for artists (those in the entertainment industry per se)?
In my opinion, no. Management teams and record labels do not have enough education around mental health support. They see it as an expensive luxury to provide to their artists. I always reply this way. A tour bus is an expensive luxury, but you need one. Mental health support for artists is a must, ahead of everything else.
We Are Hummingbird work with touring groups, artists, and management teams to explain how this can be done effectively and then implement the changes. An artist who is supported and educated about their mental health and the team around them will have fewer sick days, less cancelled gigs, and a much longer career.
Do record labels for example protect their workers enough as it seems there is a severe shortage of support?
From what we have experienced, researched, and heard through our own contacts, that they are not. This is generally based on a lack of knowledge. But would we necessarily expect them to know. Many are still unsure about what they can and cannot say to people experiencing poor mental or those with established diagnosis. They just find it easier not to say anything. We need to change this on many levels.
Is there a reluctance by labels (for example) to really give that support and further why?
Perhaps they are looking for a quick fix at the cheapest price. Unfortunately, this just won’t cut it. We have a habit of trying to put a plaster over a ‘gunshot wound’. There is a hope that if we cannot see the damage it will get better. A focus on artists’ mental health needs to be applied. Assume every single one of them will need it at some point. I can assure you that every artist will take support to some degree if it is offered.
Love what you are trying to do for music artists at your company We Are Hummingbird. Elaborate more on the catalyst for the company.
We are extremely proud of the reasons we started and how we have grown to help many people. The organisation was ignited by the tragic suicide of a talented musician and close friend of my two business partners, John Logue, and Karl Draper-Firth.
He was a recording musician. Like many he did not show signs of the depression and suicidal thoughts he was experiencing. However, this is the thing. Once people are trained on Mental Health Awareness or Suicide prevention, people are more likely to pick up on the signs.
Like many, he did not have a support service that he could relate to. We knew that something had to be done following his death. There to be a way to give a voice to those who do not feel they had found their ‘tribe’. We know we cannot, and don’t expect to be the tribe for everyone and we regularly signpost to other services. However, as we see it, the more services that exist, the less chance someone will be missed.
Tell us a bit, about what you do at We Are Hummingbird?
We have a couple of different elements to the ‘brand’. First and foremost, we raise awareness around mental health and suicide prevention. We do this in several different ways. Through our social media pages where we have weekly features such as an Instagram Live interview each Wednesday.
We also release a curated playlist each Friday. The playlist has been a feature from day one-it remains the cornerstone of everything we do. We have had some amazing people including Frank Turner, Graham Coxon, Brandon Block, The Fratelli’s, Rick Juppto name a few. Those chosen suggest twelve tracks. That’s a nod, to the number of male suicides in the UK every day.
We run other campaigns through the year. Recently we filmed a six-part series based all around different mental health topics. We released one a day, culminating on World Suicide Awareness Day.
Ultimately check our website but we have only just begun on this journey. We have no doubt we will be the pioneers in changing mental health support and awareness in the music industry.
World Mental Health Day is on the 10th October how are you people going to celebrate that?
Yes, it is fast approaching. These days are always bittersweet for us. We appreciate that they exist and always look to do something to mark it. However at the same time, its mental health awareness day and suicide awareness day every single day for us.
This year we will be announcing some exciting news. It will take us onto the next level of supporting those who are experiencing poor mental health. The power of music will bring that change. More excitingly it will not just be for one day but every single day. So, make sure you watch our socials on the 10th.
Can you tell us about this “exciting news”?
I cannot reveal too much at this stage. We plan to change the whole way mental health is treated within the music industry. Discussions and plans have started with great people. Our idea is to ensure that not just this generation, but all future music artists have the support and confidence to be open about mental health. For us we want people to see the hummingbird and recognise it as ‘THE’ pillar for mental health and music.
*We are aware there is a lack of mental health support in the entertainment industry as a whole. High profile deaths of people like Anthony Bourdain reflective of this. We have merely chosen to focus on the music industry as one part of the entertainment industry to highlight a wider problem.