Rhode Island has a tight-knit artist community, specifically when it comes to the music scene. A lot of musicians know each other by name, band or personally, regardless of genre. There are supportive venues throughout the state helping to build musical camaraderie and friendship. A scene like this is not unique, but there is something special about the support and love RI musicians have for each other.
The past year of 2022, like years previously, has been full of sadness and loss in the musical community. While some were due to medical issues, the majority could be attributed to personal mental health. Social media was flooded with tributes and people begging others to reach out if needed. It is unclear how many people took advantage of offers for support, as taking that first step can feel impossible.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 50% of people will be diagnosed with a mental health disorder at some point in their life. 20% experience a mental health illness in a given year. The CDC states that when “the demands placed on a person exceed their resources and coping abilities, their mental health could be impacted. Mental health is individually based and can change for a person over time due to many factors, including a major life change (death, new job, move, etc), working long hours or experiencing economic hardship. Yet, there is still a stigma around mental health and admitting help is needed.”
“We want people to take a look in the mirror and be honest with themselves about how they’re feeling,” says Don Culp, drummer for John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band, founding member of the RI Music Hall of Fame advisory board and advocate for musicians’ mental health. Culp helps run Tune In & Tune Up, which aims to keep RI’s “music community informed about preventative health care options and other information necessary to make informed health and wellness decisions.” The organization assisted some musicians but had difficulty getting the majority to pay attention.
Culp, who openly struggles with depression, explained that he noticed an issue while the advisory board discussed musicians that passed away in the past year. He said that he started researching and it dawned on him that there is a direct connection between physical/mental health and their passing. He learned that 80% of medical ailments are due to stress in some way (according to a Tufts study). This causes poor habits that wear your system out.
“Musicians need to know that it will be okay and that they’ll get through this,” Culp says. They need to be aware of what their body is telling them and be reminded that others are feeling this way.”
While some may watch a musician playing on stage or the crew setting up before and after the show, thinking that it’s the greatest job in the world, living like a rock star became a popular cliché for a reason: Wild nights of fun have been glamorized and glorified. There is a lot more work and stress involved than some may realize. Another issue is what Culp dubs “Post Gig Syndrome.”
Culp theorizes that musicians are riding the endorphins from the gig just completed. A lot of musicians are depressed before the gig and euphoric during the gig. This euphoria carries over after the gig, with people wanting to continue that high with partying. Culp says that the party room is full of people feeling great after the show, whether it be from the crowd reaction or strong performance. “Nobody has a care in the world.” Culp says, which can lead to a false sense of security and joy as well as a sense of invincibility.
“It can rule your life,” Culp says of Post Gig Syndrome. “Depression starts all over again as people become tired and lose focus.” He adds that musicians spend long hours on the road, which leads to fatigue that some combat with substances.
“We came to the conclusion that musicians feel that they’re bulletproof,” Culp says. “It’s a tough life with a lot of travel. A lot are walking around with health issues and don’t realize it because they push themselves.”
Living healthy physically is another lifestyle that many musicians often put too far to the back burner. Culp, owner of the martial arts school Whole Arts Training Center in North Kingstown, explains that life is about balance, self-awareness and knowing your body. Culp suggests that people should take action almost immediately upon feeling sick to prevent longterm health issues, but he understands that not everyone has insurance, especially musicians.
“Health and balance are hugely important, but it’s difficult to buy into them,” Culp says. “People are turning to their vices to feel good, to cover for mental health issues. You realize that a lot of people don’t care because they’re too tired. Or it’s too late once they start to care. A lot of people end their lives because they can’t go on like this anymore. It’s a silent killer.”
Culp knows that the RI music scene is tight and supportive, but feels that more can be done to support each other’s mental health. Culp said that Tune In Tune Up didn’t get the attention that they hoped for, but still managed to give away $13,000 to musicians and guide them to services. He said that investors, doctors and HealthSource RI backed away from the project because they had trouble identifying with musicians, but the organization still has money to continue and hopes to find new partners.
“The state of musicians, and trying to help them come to grips with needing to reach out and not be embarrassed to reach out. A lot of musicians just won’t admit that there’s a problem. We need to get our community together. We don’t get a lot of respect from the corporate world.”
Inspired by community need and more interviews than could fit in this article, we are launching a series on the intersection of mental health issues and our music community. Bobby Forand will be looking at various aspects and related issues over the coming months. If you have thoughts to contribute, you can reach him through our editors at firstname.lastname@example.org