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September 30, 2020IM -
As everyone knows all too well, the COVID-19 pandemic has decimated the music industry. Whether it is from the prohibition of live music in bars and restaurants, the furloughing of orchestral players, or the shuttering of recording studios, musicians have been walking a high wire for seven months. Everyone has been wondering where their next paycheck will come from, how they will pay for healthcare or monthly bills, or if their career will even viably rebound.
Not surprisingly, the stress, anxiety, depression, and fear resulting from this new reality has been increasing the mental health toll on professional musicians.
“I’m busier than I have ever been,” says Zack Borer, a licensed psychotherapist in Los Angeles and the co-founder of Backline, a nonprofit that brings mental health and wellness resources specifically to music industry professionals and their families. “It’s from amateurs all the way up to pro-level musicians who are experiencing all of these issues. Really, I think it’s an exacerbation of many of the existing issues that already are prevalent, and what coronavirus has done is lift the carpet a little bit and shown all the things that people have been brushing under there for many years. The stoppage of work has allowed people to take a hard look at themselves in a way they maybe never have before, and I think it’s brought up a lot of mental health issues.”
Borer, who played music in his youth before achieving his master’s in systemic family therapy and working for years in substance abuse treatment centers, says that part of the problem is the bleak outlook for the industry. With live music basically banned, Broadway vacant until next year, and recording limited by social distancing and safety protocols, it’s causing more fear, anxiety, and frustration for musicians than they already had. Borer is finding among his patients many questioning their choice of career—although while some wonder if they want to continue in the industry, just as many have realized that music is the only thing they want to do with their lives.
But what is the healthy way in which to deal with these mental health issues caused by the pandemic? Anyone can do a web search and find Top 5 lists on how to stay healthy during quarantine through diet, exercise, and meditation, but for Borer, the “entry point into healing” really begins with self-awareness. “Being honest with ourselves and what we’re going through during this time is going to be the entry point for change,” he says. “My job is to work with people and address what it is about their fear that is real, what it is that is concerning them, and also who they are when the music stops, who they are if they are not playing their instrument. I think there is an identity reckoning that is happening with many individuals.”
Created in 2019, before COVID, nonprofit Backline was started as a way to help address the chronic mental health issues suffered in the music industry, not only by artists, but also by crew, managers, agents, promoters, and family members. The nonprofit does this by connecting—free of charge—suffering industry professionals with a network of mental health and wellness providers.
The way it works is that industry professionals can set up a free assessment consultation call with a Backline clinician—all of whom are master’s level professionals with direct experience in the music industry. That clinician will make a curated and individual referral for the client to a mental health or wellness expert at their location (who is not part of the Backline organization). This could be for individual psychotherapy, life coaching, mentorship, substance abuse counseling, or other assistance. Once the referral is made, the client does have to pay for the services of the expert found for them, although most clinicians offer a deep negotiated rate for Backline clients, Borer says.
Of course, any cost can be an issue during the unemployment caused by COVID, and Backline offers free virtual support groups twice a week, and will soon be expanding its offerings, Borer says. These groups range from a space for people to gather and talk, to yoga, meditation, and breathwork.
“Obviously, I’m a big advocate of individual therapy,” Borer says, “but if someone can’t do that, I think just acknowledging their experiences, whether it’s with a friend, a family member, a partner, or a licensed professional, there’s a lot of value in that, and it can allow people to voice their concerns and not keep them inside; and when that’s met with support, it can really change someone’s perspective.”
For more information about Backline, visit the website at https://backline.care, or find them on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter: @backline.care or @backline_care.
“For anybody out there having a hard time: You are not alone,” Borer says. “I see it every day in my private practice and at Backline and on the support groups. There is a massive community out there who is experiencing this collectively, and there are organizations and people out there to help.”