Punk Talks: You Don’t Have to Be Sad to Make Great Music

By: Desi Rottman

An interview with Sheridan Allen, founder of the organization providing accessible care to musicians, music industry workers, and fans

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Content Warning: suicide, depression

Music and mental health, particularly depression, have a connection that can’t be ignored. The “tortured artist” stereotype isn’t without merit — musicians are three times as likely to suffer from depression — and non-musicians often turn to music during sad or stressful times as a source of comfort. It can even be argued that the pressure experienced by musicians to continue providing relief for fans puts them in a helping profession — another group with elevated suicide rates. But you don’t have to be sad to make great music — and we aren’t the only ones that think so.

Punk Talks was founded in January 2015 in the Cincinnati area. It aims to provide free mental health assistance to bands, industry professionals, and fans while also educating and raising awareness of mental health and self-care. We spoke with Punk Talks founder Sheridan Allen about the great work they’re doing, not only in providing care, but also in raising awareness and working to circumvent the stigma around illness.

if me: Why did you start Punk Talks? What was the impetus?

Punk Talks: I started Punk Talks as a response to a need I saw in our community. It perplexed me how immense the stress of trying to be a successful musician (or actively being successful) while balancing the demands of daily life. Often, these musicians are in college, or they work full-time, as well as being constantly subjected to the grueling lifestyle of touring, all while not making much (if any) money to meet their basic needs. When you combine this with a mental illness or a heightened ability to experience negativity, it can be a recipe for disaster. I wanted to really work to meet musicians where they are and help the bands who have helped me through so much.

Want more? Read Stress Awareness

How long has Punk Talks been around?

We were founded in January 2015, so our third birthday is right around the corner!

How have you grown the organization?

When I began Punk Talks, it was just me sending positivity into the void. We were approached by our first therapist, who now functions as our Treatment Director, in February of 2016 and added professional therapy to our service offerings in March. Since then, we have grown into a team of 3 volunteer licensed therapists, a volunteer pharmacist, three designers, a financial director, an outreach coordinator, a resource coordinator, and my assistant director. I feel incredibly fortunate to have such a wonderful team of hardworking and dedicated volunteers who work so diligently to promote mental wellness!

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How did you start getting involved with the bands you collaborate with now?

When I began Punk Talks, I had absolutely ZERO connections to the industry. Every band that I collaborate with has been purely through their belief in accessibility to mental health treatment. They deserve absolutely all the credit for their work with us — they really are agents of social change.

How do people react — is it mostly positive, or are you doing a lot of fighting the stigma of mental illness?

For the most part, reception of Punk Talks as a whole has been overwhelmingly positive. We have, of course, received some criticism over the years, as any organization does (and should!) We are always growing and learning, as is part of the human experience, and as we learn, we try to teach others as well. Mental illness will continue to be stigmatized, but we will work to fight against that until everyone can see that suffering is not mandatory.

What has the most rewarding part been personally?

This may be the only question I have been unable to answer in an interview! Every second of Punk Talks has been the most rewarding part — I am literally living my dream by getting to provide these services to our community. Every moment that I am operating Punk Talks, I am infinitely rewarded.

What are your favorite self-care/coping strategies?

My main coping strategy is absolutely my cat, the Goodest Boy in The World, FRANKLIN ❤ I also love a good bath or reaching out to close friends when I am struggling. I suffer through a LOT of anxiety, so knowing my limits about social interaction is very important to me — going to the grocery store late at night when it won’t be too busy, skipping a show if I am feeling anxious, etc. Of course, every person is different and my personal coping strategies may not work for everyone! I advise any person to discuss coping skills with a licensed professional therapist ☺

Want more? Check out 10 Essential Self-Care Reminders

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You often have “Let’s Talk About” threads that shine a light on various illnesses. What has the reception to those been?

Reception to our educational threads has been extremely positive; working to educate about different mental illnesses is a crucial part of what we do! Mental illness has this sneaky way of tricking you into thinking you’re the only person who feels the way you do — in these threads, I hope to shine a light on the different aspects of specific mental illnesses and also give people a means to feel a little bit less alone in their fight.

Where can people find you?

People can find us through social media (@PunkTalks) or via email (punktalks@gmail.com). If you live in Philadelphia, you can find me wandering around Queen Village, at a show, or working in the Temple University area!

Is there anything else you want people to know about you, the organization, or mental illness in general?

Even when your brain tricks you, you are never ever ever alone! We are always with you.

For more on Punk Talks, visit their website at www.punktalks.org.

You can add activities and positive thoughts to your Strategies, identify the circumstances that make for difficult and positive Moments, join Groups to share your mental health experiences in a safe setting, and much more of what makes for a healthy life with our web app at if-me.org.

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