May is Mental Health Awareness Month. With three million Australians living with anxiety or depression (according to Beyond Blue) now, more than ever, we need to ensure that conversations around mental health happen publicly and regularly — especially in the music industry which sees alarming rates of mental illness persisting. Over the course of this month, we’ll be sharing a series of articles focusing on the importance and understanding of mental health, breaking the associated stigmas, and overall, helping to do our part to make the subject less taboo.
First up, we speak with multi-award-winning artist and mental health advocate for music industry charity Support Act, Fanny Lumsden. Support Act chose artists and music workers who have grappled with mental health issues themselves and have stories to share. Having a year like few others – Lumsden, her husband Dan Freeman and son Walter were forced to flee their property as bushfire swept in from two directions, watched the community of Tooma try to rebuild and recover, to then losing her income due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2021, Support Act launched Tune Ups – a high impact, intimate and revealing 7-part video series on mental health with Australian music heroes. The series goes deep into each subject’s raw, and deeply personal mental health journeys, in some cases further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, what it took to take control of their own well being and what they do now to stay on track. You can watch Lumsden’s episode below.
Despite having everything cancelled in 2020, Lumsden recently announced the first round of dates for her 8th annual Country Halls Tour. Round one will see Lumsden travelling to communities affected by floods, fires and drought throughout regional NSW, VIC, QLD, WA and NT. Celebrating, raising money and a good time for halls and community groups all over Australia, Lumsden and her band The Prawn Stars are encouraging people to come for a road trip, stay the night, buy fuel and a loaf of bread at the local servo and help support these communities get back on their feet.
We talk to Lumsden about how she keeps her mental health in check, breaking the stigmas, the importance of the arts, collaborating with Kylie Minogue and what she’s done with all her recent award wins.
Firstly, for those who have little idea of the important work that Support Act does, can you explain what they do, how they help the music industry and the resources that are available?
As the name suggests, [it’s a] support network or a safety net that’s designed to the music industry. The music industry doesn’t have all that much support throughout it, like systematically, and so if people do lose their jobs and that kind of stuff, there’s not any kind of sick leave or support around that.
Originally, they started to help people when they were going through that kind of trouble. So, if you did have to go on sick leave or needed to get treatment for cancer, Support Act would step in and help finance your life while you going through that. It’s all based on donations – which is amazing. They’ve really branched out in the last few years into creating a whole network around supporting people and their mental health, which is rife in this industry. Another thing that Support Act are running are Mental Health First Aid and courses around helping other people.
A lot of people feel fairly isolated anyway in the music industry. Often, they’re either working from home or out in the road so Support Act has specific help lines where you can call and somebody understands what you’re talking about around your profession so they have other different resources that can help you through that kind of thing. They also have a lot of networking and things like that that makes you feel connected.
They also create a lot of financial support. They give no question asked grants and money to musicians who basically, as we all did, lost our jobs last year, so they really help people get back on their feet in a real way. It’s not just fluff, they really put money where their mouth is.
Why is Support Act a charity that you wanted to get involved with?
I really believe that the best way to help is to help each other, especially our peers. It’s not really that well known through the country scene as much – it’s a bit more well known throughout other scenes.
And I [want] people [to] know that they could apply – like, for example, Bluesfest cancelling, people who were involved or financially affected could get an instant grant from them. They just had to write a small form. It’s really easy. It’s not like crazy or anything. So, they’re trying to help in an active and viable way. That’s really great. I have a platform and I’d like to be able to use it to help people as much as I can.
People working in music experience mental ill health at rates that are 5 – 10 times higher than the rest of the community. Why do you think people in creative industries have some of the highest rates of suicide, depression, and other mental health issues?
There’s a lot of isolation in music industry, same with farming as well, I think this is why it happens. There’s a lot of pressure and there’s less structure from like, I suppose, in a workplace, you would have like, here’s your goals for the week, here’s your tasks, here’s your bla bla bla. But, in the creative, you have to make that stuff up and it’s quite hard to measure how you’re going and then you probably get in your own head a lot. Artists and creatives are thinking a lot as well [laughs] so they’re always dwelling on stuff as well.
It’s also just a hard industry, there’s a lot of external pressure, and if you haven’t got your feet solid on the ground or if you can’t gain perspective regularly, then it can really wrap you up fast and spit you out in the wrong way.
It must be difficult then for an artist who experiences success so quickly. For example, let’s say, a new artist, a teenager, releases a single, EP or album and it goes to the top of the charts and sky rockets them into stardom only to have their second release absolutely tank – that must be devastating and for a lack of a better word, soul-crushing. How do you deal with the extreme ups-and-downs of mental anguish that I assume would be associated with being an artist and what advice would you give?
We’re all guilty of this, including me, like, you get swept up in that hype and then you forget the reason you made the music to start with. Like, did you do it to get famous, because if you did it to get famous, then it’s gonna be a painful ride. It’s gonna be bumpy, and it’s gonna hurt a lot. But if you did because you love making other people happy, creating art or you have this compulsion to write songs – you need to really dig down deep and find the real reasons that you are being an artist. And if it is fame, then you’re going to have to just set up some serious systems to help yourself because it’s gonna be super hard [laughs].
I think having a good perspective on what it means to be an artist. I think people get hyped and then they link this self-value to the success of their music or the industry. And, it’s quite hard because we’re basing our worth then on people’s opinions, timing, and luck – and that can be super dangerous.
I work so hard on making sure that I’m not basing my own self-worth on how well my music, shows or anything like that does. It’s more how much work I put into it and did somebody else get something out of it? Like, maybe it didn’t go to number one, but maybe someone from some town somewhere, maybe it changed their life, maybe just changed their day. And so, I’m having an impact in different ways.
I think constantly re-evaluating where you’re drawing your own strength from is important and I think understanding the actual business side of the industry is important for that too. The mechanics of the industry is so important for artists, because then they understand when things change and move around. Why? What happened? And then it’s actually not because they’re a bad person.
Many people lost their jobs in 2020 due to the pandemic, not only in the music industry. Some people’s attitudes were that people shouldn’t receive free handouts and instead, those who lost their income should get a job in a supermarket, warehouse or in some other “essential” workplace. What is your opinion on this issue?
It’s frustrating. Like, when, say there’s drought and farmers are going through this kind of thing, they get subsidies, tax cuts and different things from the government – and no one asks them to go and work in supermarkets. And, when they’re going through that, musicians are the first ones to put on events to raise money.
Musicians are constantly the ones who are putting on aid concerts, giving and giving, and doing things for free and we already are doing other [behind the scenes] jobs. I think valuing act and culture … like what did everybody do during lockdown? They watched Netflix, listened to music, and read books. That was all done by artists. Without all of that, what would they have done?!
The arts are a multi-billion-dollar industry, and contribute a lot to the Australian economy. As does sports, which, for the most part, was largely able to continue in some form of “COVID normal” during the pandemic. According to Support Act, since the pandemic, Australia has lost $345 million in revenue from cancelled live shows. Overall, how do you think the government handled the arts last year?
The value of arts in this country could definitely have some work done on it. It’s pretty abysmal [laughs].
It’s the double standard that is frustrating. I know a lot of people are in a tough position right now. People are getting other jobs and are leaving the industry. We’re losing all of this incredible talent and knowledge – and it’s really sad. People want to have stability and it’d be cool if it could be across all industries like that.
The arts are such a massive contributor to society in so many ways so to have artists valued higher would be nice. We’re getting there, people have had to work and lobby so hard for it to get through. A little bit of support was starting to trickle out but maybe across the board around venues and events and, I suppose, a standard that’s not just for sports or not just for big power events.
Not only did you lose your income for the entire year, you were also affected by bushfires that swept through Tooma, where you are based with your husband and son. When there’s so much negativity and darkness, how do you not let that consume you?
I worked my ass off day and night all year to try and keep things going. I didn’t sit around and watch stuff. I’m a really optimistic person by nature – that helps – and I tend to always keep getting perspective. Like, my problems are pretty pathetic compared to a lot of other people’s problems. I have a beautiful family, a beautiful place to live and I’m really lucky. As long as I’m focusing on a path that I love, I think it all falls into place.
I don’t bottle it up either. I’m very vocal about talking to my family or friends or getting professional help when I need it. I think it’s important. That doesn’t necessarily always mean a professional psychologist or anything like that. I got a nanny because my husband and I are both working flat out from home and then on the road and it’s really hard when you have a toddler running around. That’s made a huge difference. Or you could get a cleaner. It’s just working out what you need to help you function.
What are some things that can people do to help bushfire affected communities?
In the wake of it people did so much like, they donated things and different things like that. If you’re able to join your local Volunteer Fire Brigade … my whole family did it and now we’re all volunteer firefighters. Because our valley is so isolated, and during the fires, we didn’t have any help, like nobody came in and we didn’t have any firefighters, there wasn’t trucks and stuff coming to save us, there was no one, and so, we all did our training. So, if you’re up something like that, super helpful.
Otherwise, I think just being aware, in general, but like in the aftermath or if you’re able to go out and help rebuild or something like that, that kind of thing can help too. And then having an awareness that there’s going to be a long road for people to recover from that. Like it’s not over in a month or two. Even though the grass has grown back, the trauma runs pretty deep. People are still reeling from it … and some people still haven’t even got their houses rebuilt so people are still struggling.
So, it’s just having an understanding, I suppose, and an awareness of maybe coming to those towns now on a holiday, filling up with fuel and staying in our local pub, B&B or an Airbnb and going out to a restaurant. Spending money in nice little towns really helps, and it doesn’t mean you need to sacrifice any of your time – you can do it as a holiday, come to a country halls show [laughs], stay at the pub, come to the show. I think going to the towns and spending money in their local businesses really helps.
Mental health is often used as a substitute for mental health conditions – such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and others. However, according to the World Health Organization, mental health is “a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”
One of the biggest difficulties surrounding mental health is that often the signs aren’t visible or recognisable and some people are just too afraid to get help or aren’t even aware they have a issue at all. Which is what makes it such a difficult subject to try and tackle. I feel like there’s also a stigma, especially surrounding celebrities, but also about anyone who has money, travelled the world, has a loving family, a dream job etc. To quote: “how can the elite be affected when their lives are seemingly “perfect?” “How can they be struggling when they have all that?” etc.
Yeah, totally. I think there’s an idea that you have to be “can’t get out of bed” depression to qualify to get help or talk about it. It’s not. You have teeth, so you have dental health, and then you have brains, emotions and living so you have mental health. It doesn’t necessarily need to be like so drastically down one way. It’s something that you have to keep a check on. I think the more we talk about it, the more normalised it hopefully will become.
Originally, I questioned if I was right to be an advocate to Support Act, because I’m not struggling. I don’t have depression. But, when I was talking with them, they’re like, “this is the point.” The point is you don’t have to be at one end of the spectrum to represent this and to talk about this. It’s still a thing for everybody. That’s why I decided that it was a good idea for me to pursue this is because I represent maybe a different angle to what’s usually portrayed in the media for mental health.
Has songwriting been a form of therapy to keep your mental health in check during the pandemic? And if so, do you feel pressure to top the success of your third album, Fallow during the creation of these new songs?
I haven’t written been about it to be honest. I think that tough times do inspire songs, but I don’t put any pressure on when they come out. I’m just trying to let the process do its own thing. Which is maybe why I haven’t song written yet. I’ve done a bit of writing but when that time comes, I’ll just focus on the songs and making good art again, rather than what I need to achieve. I think that’s the best way to do it. I’m just really proud. It was all very weird because the ARIAs has happened at home so we didn’t have that big night and then it was all very fragmented and so I still have to stop and go “oh my god.” I can’t believe that happened!
Speaking of the ARIA Awards, Fallow managed to not only take out ‘Country Album of the Year’ but you also took home five Golden Guitar awards including ‘Album of the Year’ and ‘Alt Country Album of the Year.’ Andrew Swift keeps his awards on display, while legendary actress Susan Sarandon hides her awards in her bathroom – where do you keep your awards?
They’re on the mantle place in my lounge room. Like, yeah, they are! I worked so hard for those awards! They’re amazing [laughs]. I’m so proud and super grateful. It’s blowing my mind that this album has reached people like it has. I’m not going to hide them because they mean a lot and it means that your industry and peers has given you a nod and been like “You make good art. You did good work.” That’s really valuable.
Do you feel like you missed out by not being able to go to the ARIA awards and celebrate in person?
Yeah, I’d be lying to say if I wasn’t. Like it was all cool but there’s nothing like that big party. Especially in country, we don’t really get opportunities to rub shoulders or sit down the aisle from Molly Meldrum, The Wiggles and then all these big acts in this bigger greater industry.
Who would you like to have rubbed shoulders with to try and coax into collaborating with you?
I would love to collaborate with Kylie Minogue. She’s iconic. She went down a little country path there for a bit. Actually, her backup dancers were dressed the same as my band were originally – my original band called The Thrillseekers. From like, 2012 to 2015, they wore double denim and neck scarves, like that was my band uniform. And then, when she came out on that tour, like three years ago or whatever, they had all her band all wearing that. Everyone’s like, “Oh my god, it’s The Thrillseekers!” I’m like, “Kylie, she’s just ripping me off again!” [laughs]. But yeah, something a little disco would be fun too.
You’re kicking off on a new tour in just over a week. What can you tell us about it?
We’re heading out on our eighth country halls tour [that] we’ve been putting on since 2012. We put on shows in halls all over Australia, mostly regional. Basically, halls apply to host and then we try and get to as many as we can. We’ve done over 150 already in over the last seven years [and] had over 80 apply for this year. The first round will go from May through til September.
I think it really ties into the conversation around mental health and talking about mental health. Because the whole point of the country halls tour is to reciprocate, have a really good time, have fun and forget about all the shit they’re going through. But we do bring it up, have a moment and then provide resources as well if people want to call somebody. So, yeah, I suppose it kind of ties in that way.
For ticket information, head to: https://www.fannylumsden.net/country-halls-tour/
Keep up to date with Fanny Lumsden on her facebook here.
For more in-depth interviews from CountryTown, check out here.