“Every single day we have at least one person tell us: you saved my life. SIMS saved my life,” says Patsy Bouressa, Clinical Director at the SIMS Foundation.

Austin has a vaunted reputation as the “Live Music Capital of the World,” but the highly competitive and demanding music scene can tax a musician’s mental health.

Musicians everywhere deal with an extremely demanding business. In Austin, affordability and competition add to stressors that are inherent in the industry. Today we discuss the mental health needs of musicians with two people who intimately know music and mental health: Patsy Bouressa and Vanessa Lively.

Stress, Depression and the Working Musician

Musicians regularly encounter situations that strain their mental health. The late nights and the venues can be difficult on the body and the mind, especially for individuals who already have issues with substance use. Add in the lack of job security and stability. Work-life balance is practically non-existent. Family support can be little or strained. “Depression and anxiety come in as stress wears a person down,” says Patsy Bouressa, clinical director at the SIMS Foundation, an Austin-based nonprofit that provides mental health and substance use resources to area musicians and their families. She adds, “It’s a never-ending list of stressors and strains on relationships and mental health and well-being.”

This is even truer for musicians trying to make it in a scene like Austin. There are a lot of musicians seeking paying gigs, and they’re willing to play for almost no money.  Austin is an expensive city and musicians have to make critical choices about their livelihood, families and well-being. Bouressa says that affordable housing is an issue across the board for musicians and families, and references Mosaic Sound Collective as doing innovative work in this area.

At the same time, Vanessa Lively, who is a musician in Austin, describes the musician scene as very welcoming and supportive. There are also many support organizations for musicians, including Health Alliance for Austin Musicians (HAAM) and the Austin Music Foundation, to name a few in addition to SIMS.

“If you want support and guidance and mentorship, it’s at your fingertips here in Austin,” says Lively, who herself runs Home Street Music, a nonprofit organization working with people who have experienced homelessness.

Two Sides of A Musician’s Persona

Lively describes people in the music community—especially the folk music scene that she knows best—as raw and honest, often sharing their real life struggles and stories. But Bouressa balances that view by saying that some musicians mask their feelings behind the personas they create. When clients come in to speak with her, she sees the real human experience and issues that they’re struggling with as a stark contrast to the persona they may put on stage. “That can feed the anxiety,” says Bouressa, “and if you throw in any substance use issues, that can make things even harder.”

The Role of the SIMS Foundation

SIMS can step in and support people through the ups and downs of the musician’s life. SIMS was created approximately 25 years ago in honor of Sims Ellison, an Austin musician who took his own life. Following his suicide, a group of people in his life got together and created a mental health organization aimed at stopping this tragedy from happening to others. Musicians, band managers and tour managers—individuals who have personal experience with the stressors of the industry—formed the SIMS Foundation in 1995. Today, the organization serves about 600 musicians and music industry workers each year, connecting them to much needed services and supports at vastly reduced rates.

The Hogg Foundation is dedicated to partnering with communities in their efforts to build resilience and improve mental health in environments where people live, learn, work, pray and play. Learn more about our strategic focus.

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