By Jordan Stovka
Three weeks ago, Philadelphia pop-punks Modern Baseball cancelled the entirety of their U.S. tour, acting on their advocacy of the importance of mental health by choosing to take care of their own.
On Feb. 21, vocalist and guitarist Jake Ewald took over the band’s social media accounts, posting a photo listing emergency mental health hotlines followed by a lengthy caption explaining the group’s decision.
“The project we started as a source of joy and positive expression had become something that was slowly eating away at our mental health and our friendships,” the caption read. “We have been championing the importance of mental health for a while now, and we recently realized that it would be wrong for us to ignore our own health any longer.”
The group has been vocal about their support of mental health awareness, particularly with their latest release Holy Ghost in which frontman Brendan Lukens opened up publicly about his struggle with depression, both on and off the album. Since the album release, Lukens, for one, has repeatedly tweeted encouraging messages such as, “You are beautiful and terribly important,” as well as posting honest updates on the realities of dealing with depression.
Despite the timeliness of the group cancelling dozens of tour dates, mental illness amongst the creative community is anything but a new concept.
According to a study conducted by deCODE, a genetics company based in Reykjavik, Iceland, painters, musicians, writers and dancers are 25 percent more likely to carry genes that raise the risk of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
“There is a natural correlation between people who are creative and mental health. It’s kind of impossible to answer [the question] of are they creative because they’re sad, or are they sad because they’re creative,” said Sheridan Allen, founder of Punk Talks, an organization aiming to spread awareness of mental health in the emo genre and provide bands with services and treatment.
Allen, 26, began the organization in 2015 during her last semester at Northern Kentucky University, when she first discovered Modern Baseball, who were students attending Drexel University at the time.
“It was around my finals week and I remember thinking, ‘My God, I am so stressed out and [college is] the only thing I do. I can’t imagine going on tour in a foreign country on my spring break,’” she said. “So then it kind of came to me. They’re probably really stressed and could use some kind of special mental health service.”
Since then, Allen has become close friends with the members of Modern Baseball and supports the group’s decision in taking time off of touring. She believes, however, with proper care and treatment, this kind of resolution can be avoidable.
“I really commend them for doing this because I’m sure it was not easy. I’ve told them many times, Punk Talks would not exist if it weren’t for Modern Baseball,” she said.
Set to earn her master’s degree in social work this July from the University of Louisville, one of Allen’s biggest roles in Punk Talks is touring with bands—primarily of the DIY, emo genre—to provide aid to musicians while spreading awareness, all in the hope of eliminating the stigma associated with seeking treatment.
“I have found in my work that the number one way to engage bands in mental health treatment is to get to know them on a personal level,” Allen said. “It gives bands the opportunity to have a mental health professional on the road with them, but it also gives me an opportunity to talk to people in cities about the importance of mental health care.”
As of recently, Allen travelled alongside Orlando natives You Blew It! during the band’s winter Abendrot tour with fellow emo groups Free Throw and All Get Out, an experience You Blew It! frontman Tanner Jones recalls as nothing less than refreshing.
“Generally, the part that is most taxing is a two parter: the stress of getting places on time is very pressing, but also I think more importantly, the stress of being the center of attention for three hours a night and then being absolutely and totally alone for the other nine hours of the day,” he said. “It’s a game of highs and lows, and those valleys and peaks tend to become very stressful.”
In Jones’s opinion, the prominence of mental illness in the music industry is nothing unique or new to this generation, but rather has received more attention because of the elimination of the taboo associated with the topic.
He compared the stigma of mental health to that of promiscuity of the 1950s: it wasn’t that people weren’t having sex then, but rather it simply wasn’t being talked about.
“There was a very big taboo connected to it, even ten years ago. Talking about or even showing that you had feelings or sensitivity to anything was kind of … an insult.” he said. “Fortunately, people are starting to talk about it more and feeling more open. I think that’s why we’re seeing a lot more of it now.”
An estimated 7.6 million young adults aged 18 to 25 (21.7 percent) had any mental illness (AMI) in the past year, and an estimated 1.8 million young adults (5.0 percent) had a serious mental illness (SMI) during that same time frame, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in 2015. This is higher than any other age group included in the study.
Thirty-two percent of those aged 18-25 sought mental health service use in 2015.
Additionally, in that same year, the SAMHSA estimated 16.1 million (6.7 percent) American adults aged 18 or older had at least one major depressive episode. Out of this group, young adults aged 18-25 had the highest percentage (10.3) compared to adults aged 26-49 (7.5) and 50+ (4.8).
In 2015, 46.8 percent of young adults received depression treatment.
Dr. David Petersen of the university counseling center believes that the pressures of mental health on this particular age group are likely a result of individuals entering a new chapter of life that brings responsibilities and stresses never before encountered.
“We see so many things happening at this time of life. People who are in their late teens and early twenties and coming to college and encountering a number of stressors that they’ve really never had to manage prior to that, such as academic pressures, greater independence [and] identity development,” he said. “Stress can exacerbate emotional well being and mental health.”
Dr. Petersen said that despite having higher demand for mental health services with each passing year, he still believes that many students are not seeking treatment who need it. He determines this to be a result of a negative stigma associated with mental health care, in addition to individuals fostering the mindset of independence and not wanting to call upon professionals for help.
“We certainly see students who come in and tell us ‘I should have done this years ago or when I was a first year student but I just wasn’t comfortable with it,’” he said. “The stigma can be related to societal concerns about what it means to be dealing with a mental health issue, cultural issues, [or] family ideas about how one copes with stress.”
He challenges anyone who is struggling with wanting to find treatment to put aside their desire to solve the problem themselves and take the next step, not as a sign of weakness but of strength.
“Seeking out the appropriate professional resources is doing just that. You are doing it on your own. You have to be willing to come in and take advantage of these resources such as a therapist or a psychologist in the counseling center,” Dr. Petersen said.
“That is a sign of strength. It is a good sign that you are not satisfied with the way things are and you think something can change, so you set about doing something about it.”
If you are struggling with the effects of mental illness, the National Alliance on Mental Illness hotline is available Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264). If you or someone you know is in a crisis situation, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 at 800-273-TALK (8255).
Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of Modern Baseball’s Facebook.
Jordan Stovka is a sophomore journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.