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Musicians, how is your mental health? Check out CHECK YOUR HEAD

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If you spend much time on social media, you’ll notice that most people have little difficulty sharing details about their physical ailments. Slice a finger while making a salad? It usually ends up on Facebook accompanied by a bloody image nobody wants to see. When it comes to mental health, people are usually far more reluctant to publicly share those details. It’s like that in real life too.

Music journalist and musician life coach Mari Fong says she was all too aware of the stigma surrounding discussions of mental health. It’s one of the reasons she launched the CHECK YOUR HEAD: Mental Help for Musicians podcast where musicians from a variety of genres come together with mental health experts and specialists to offer real world solutions to a wide range of issues.

Fong has a very friendly and natural delivery and she’s a perceptive and sensitive interviewer. A number of her guests chose her platform as the vehicle for their first public discussion of their struggles with various mood disorders.

There has been a snowball effect regarding the show’s audience. After less than two years, the CHECK YOUR HEAD podcast now ranks in the top 3% of all podcasts for global listenership.

Fong’s career as a music journalist has given her the opportunity to connect with a variety of artists one on one. She says when rockers Chris Cornell of Soundgarden and Audioslave and Chester Bennington of Linkin Park took their lives two months apart in 2017, the losses made a powerful impact on her.

“I had covered both musicians and had interviewed Chester Bennington and thought of all of the joy I’d experienced at their shows,” Fong says. “I asked myself ‘How could they leave this world in pain?’”

Fong says she had just come out of a bout of depression at the time.

“I understood what it was like,” she says. “It was hard to get out of bed, you don’t want to talk to anybody. In my mental health journey, I was able to find a solution for recovery.”

Fong says the idea of hosting a podcast focused on the mental health of musicians came about through a partnership with the non-profit organization Sweet Relief Musicians Fund.

“I’d just done a benefit for them when this idea came up,” Fong says. “I had no experience in podcasting but something kind of overtook me.”

She learned everything she could about producing a podcast then reached out to a number of publicists with whom she’d worked in the past. Soon, she was immersed in deep-dive conversations with artists from multiple genres including Gilby Clarke (Guns N’ Roses), comedian and drummer Fred Armisen, Linda Ronstadt, Brian Wheat (Tesla), Sal Rodriguez (War), singer/songwriter James Arthur, and dozens more.

An early episode presented EDM artist Sir Bob Cornelius Rifo of The Blood Beetroots, who’d shared the stage with Swedish DJ and musician Avicci, whose mental health struggles led to his suicide in 2018.

In each episode of the CHECK YOUR HEAD podcast, Fong pairs each musician’s personal story with a corresponding mental health professional for insight into the struggles related to their discussion.

A wide range of issues have been covered over the last two years of shows as musicians join Fong to share their battles with depression, addiction, anxiety, panic attacks, obsessive compulsive disorder, PTSD, and other mood disorders.

Fong says she has noticed some commonalities among the very personal stories shared on the CHECK YOUR HEAD podcast.

“I find that anxiety is pretty common and panic attacks are something often mentioned by musicians,” she says. “Some have had panic attacks just before or even during a performance. Depression is often brought up too.”

Fong says it’s not uncommon for musicians to be confronted with a variety of mental health struggles, including those musicians who spend a lot of time on the road. The life of most traveling musicians is anything but glamorous, she says.

“You’re living on the road away from family and friends, often sleeping with a bunch of other people on a bus. There are financial ebbs and flows, and if fame hits, it can be very difficult to handle if you’re not prepared for that trajectory,” she says.

Fong says she recognizes that people in the creative arts are emotionally expressive, and that emotion is transmitted to the fans then transferred back to the artist.

“But the expressive emotions of a musician can be a double-edged sword,” Fong says. “We all love colorful and passionate creative people, they’re often funny and charismatic, but if something goes wrong in their life or if something hurts them deeply, the pain can go deeper.”

When that happens, she says, it’s important to reach out for help.

Fong puts a lot of effort into producing each episode of the CHECK YOUR HEAD podcast and she says the feedback she has received from listeners around the world tells her she’s doing the right thing.

“It feels good to know that I’m maybe making a difference for some musicians who need it,” Fong says.

(The CHECK YOUR HEAD: Mental Help for Musicians podcast is available from Apple, Spotify, Amazon Music or anywhere you listen to your favorite podcasts.)

Last modified on Tuesday, 23 November 2021 14:34


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