There’s a new support group for members of the Denver area music scene.
Last fall, Spencer Townshend Hughes of The Hollow was feeling overwhelmed. With a sense of urgency, he turned to the Denver Music Scene Facebook page. “…and I was like was like, ‘Hey, so I need help,’” he said. “Instead of trying to hide and seem tougher than I am. Would anybody be willing to get together to chat about how jacked up we are because of the music community?”
Hughes received responses indicating that although there wasn’t a group already existing to discuss that, the interest was there and he wasn’t alone. That’s what prompted him to start Denver’s Mental Wellness Monday Meetup, which takes place every second Monday of the month. Bandmate Jonathan Bray and The Hollow’s manager Angela Rose Whaley helped Hughes bring the meetup to fruition. In many ways, Hughes is the perfect person to start a program like this. When he’s not fronting The Hollow, he works as an Employment Specialist — meaning he helps people with disabilities find work and also helps them with emotional recovery — for the Aurora Mental Health Center.
It’s one of those jobs where it’s difficult to not mentally relive the day at the end of the shift. That coupled with the highs and lows that come with being a working musician, Hughes admitted it’s difficult to flip the switch, which led to him reaching out to the Facebook page in the first place. “I’d read a handful of articles talking about how depressed and anxious musicians get,” he said. “It’s certainly a difficult thing to deal with. Especially when you don’t feel like you’re allowed to be vulnerable with other members of the community because you don’t want to show weakness.”
The group seeks to address mental illness and how it affects a musicians’ ability to live a healthy life. There’s evidence that resources are needed for musicians in communities like Denver. A recent study from the University of Westminster in the UK found that 71.1% of all musician respondents believed they had experienced panic attacks and/or high levels of anxiety. That study also showed that 68.5% of respondents reported they had experienced depression. Last year, Help Musicians UK created a mental health support line for musicians, managers, tour crews and record labels in the industry.
Bray from The Hollow said it’s nice to have a community where musicians can talk freely. “I think this music community as a whole is a very communal sort of industry,” he said. “But I feel like a lot of the time competition can get in the way and I think a lot of musicians are more similar than different.”
At a recent meeting, Hughes acted as a moderator but allowing the participants to guide the conversation organically. Often when one person shared a story, another had advice for coping with the issue. Hughes was careful to use positive first-person language and to keep the conversation on an optimistic track. Everything shared at one of these meetups is confidential.
“It takes a lot of courage to get into a room full of strangers who also happen to be your peers and share your stories,” said Hughes. “It’s more of just sitting and listening to people’s stories and you don’t have to share. A lot of people who don’t share end up learning a lot and actually get answers for themselves through stories that other people share.”
Hughes is looking into organizing a second meetup on Sundays over brunch — that way more people can attend. But for now, meetups take place each month at Hooked on Colfax. And for the musicians that already attend, in numbers they find strength.