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Denise Devenish: Mental health and the music industry

To kick off M’s Mental Health Awareness Week curation, singer and BAPAM counsellor Denise Devenish discusses her experiences growing up in the music industry, how her own mental health struggles led her to a career in therapy and some simple steps you can take to improve your mental wellbeing.

  • 10 May 2021
  • min read

Denise Devenish is a qualified person-centred counsellor and a registered member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, adhering to their ethical code for excellence in professional practice. She has extensive training in working with substance misuse issues and therapeutic group facilitation on BACP endorsed training courses, and has had clinical training in the NHS. 

Denise runs her private practice from north London, but is currently working remotely. Instagram: @denisedevenishcounselling

'As glamorous and fun as it can be, the reality of working in the music business is challenging on many levels.'

'My house was always a studio and a record label. My father is a music producer, mix master and artist in his own right and my mother ran their label. Daily and nightly my home was filled with musicians and industry folk with larger than life characters, unpredictable creative types, beautiful, chaotic, and some could be described as ‘troubled’ souls. We ate together, laughed loads, there were lots of parties and my memories are mostly fun. But the troubling sides were there too. People argued and friends became estranged, people passed away because of mental health and substance misuse issues. I saw and felt the heights of joy and the fullness of being human in all its creative splendour, and I saw and felt the depths of the lows and sometimes it really confused me, but it was also my normal. When my dad was away on tour or late home from being in studios, I missed him but it was normal. As a teenager, bass rumbled my bedroom floor and I’d fall asleep late listening to the music often on loop while they figured out what they were making, and it was normal. At 17-years-old I toured with Blur, sang with Sinead O’Connor, and recorded for bands and artists such as Primal Scream and Lee Scratch Perry. I was asked to join all female punk band The Slits and to do the Fairy Tale of New York tour with Shane MacGowan but I turned both offers down. I had a taste of touring and recording and I liked it, but I was struggling with chronic anxiety and my own mental health wasn’t good.' 

'With so many unknowns and the loss of work, having a structure to the days really helps regulate the system and gives us something to focus and rely on.'

'After trying a few different approaches and therapists I found someone who I felt ‘understood’ and helped me overcome my problems. I was encouraged to build a career in music but I chose to train as a counsellor. When I qualified, I set up my practice offering services in the music industry. As a counsellor, I believe in the benefit of counselling but finding the right therapist is vital. As I learned through my own experience of seeking help, the relationship with the therapist is such an important part of the process. It is the client's right to feel entirely safe and that they can work effectively with the therapist. Each therapist will have trained in a different approach and have a different philosophy and set of beliefs that will directly impact the experience and outcome of the therapy experience. Briefly, there are three main different approaches; psychodynamic, humanistic and solution focussed. Some therapists are integrative which means they have experience in practising from all of these approaches, and some will be trained in different areas but will specialise or lean more to one area of expertise. Ask the therapist questions about how they work and trial therapists before and if you decide to go ahead. 

'Beyond seeking therapeutic support, I recommend working on creating routine and structure. With so many unknowns and the loss of work, having a structure to the days really helps regulate the system and gives us something to focus and rely on. Set realistic and actionable goals, take one day at a time. Self-care is a necessity not an indulgence. Creating boundaries is imperative. Eating at regular intervals, exercising and getting sufficient sleep are the building blocks for good mental health. If you are struggling but want to create, then try not to be hard on yourself and explore a new approach. Create a new ritual or space for discovering new ways of contacting ideas. Communicate with other musicians, create forums, join existing forums. Stay connected.'

'Encouraging consideration about the struggles the industry faces is important to ensure our musicians and industry folk stay well.'

'It has been good to see improved awareness about the issues music professionals face and the great need for specialist mental health support. Over the past year, the pandemic has affected so many music professionals’ livelihoods and creativity, and more support than ever before is needed. We have seen how important it is to work together in a crisis and many organisations in the music sector are collaborating on initiatives to improve mental health support. I work as a counsellor, mentor and mental health trainer for BAPAM (the British Association for Performing Arts Medicine) who deliver expert health and wellbeing services for all those working in the performing arts. BAPAM work with the PRS Members’ Fund, Musicians’ Union and PPL as well as Help Musicians, who partner with BAPAM to provide free counselling and psychotherapy to professional musicians through the Music Minds Matter scheme. PRS Members’ Fund and BAPAM are working together on a series of mental health webinars for PRS members. 

'In my private practice I work with musicians across all genres and at all levels in their careers. I also work in-house with record labels and offer counselling support for people who work across the industry; managers, touring crew, engineers, writers. Anyone and everyone who is a part of the music industry as a whole. As glamorous and fun as it can be, the reality of working in the music business is challenging on many levels. The main issues I encounter with clients are with confidence, self-worth, perfectionism, substance misuse, financial, identity and uncertainty. The industry is full of inspiring and exciting energy but also a lot of stress and people who burn out which is why I feel passionately about raising awareness of the issues. Encouraging consideration about the struggles the industry faces is important to ensure our musicians and industry folk stay well, so we can continue to enjoy music and benefit from its therapeutic value. 

'If you are a musician or work in the industry and need some support then please do get in touch with the organisations listed below for information about what’s available.'

Other organisations to get in touch with for mental health support: 

www.prsmembersfund.com 
www.bapam.org.uk 
www.helpmusicians.org.uk 
www.musicsupport.org 
www.musiciansunion.org.uk   
BAPAM-Factsheet-Mental-Health-Support-in-a-Crisis
www.samaritans.org 
www.mind.org.uk 
www.thecalmzone.net (for men suffering with their mental health)
www.papyrus-uk.org (for people under 35 suicide prevention)