"I think it’s going to be the start of something" says the organiser of a new mental health festival ready to launch next month in a bid to support Swindon's musicians.
As a singer who suffers with anxiety, Brinliegh Gallagher knows only too well how it feels to struggle with mental health whilst working in the music industry.
As part of her online master’s degree in music performance the 22-year-old based in Old Town, Swindon, is hosting a day festival to support Swindon's music scene - aimed particularly at musicians who suffer from ill mental health - with all profits donated to Help Musicians UK.
On Sunday 1 September Miss Gallagher will be hosting the Swindon Mental Health Festival's debut at The Lawns, Old Town, from 12pm to 4pm. The mum-of-one wants to raise awareness of the mental health services available in Swindon and, hopefully, enable musicians to build a safe and supportive network from the event.
Miss Gallagher says, "The day is to raise awareness of all of the mental health services in Swindon, and more specifically for musicians to seek and gain knowledge of the services.
“We’re going to have acoustic acts running throughout the whole day, and in between there will be three poets speaking about mental health. Anyone and everyone can attend, but hopefully it will create a network for musicians with mental health going forward.”
Mental health organisations and practitioners will be on-hand and running stalls throughout the day offering advice and wellbeing packages (or "goody bags"). Miss Gallagher says that during her research at the University of West London it has become clear that more and more musicians suffering with ill mental health are not seeking help.
“I saw a massive gap when I was doing my research into musicians who didn’t seek support," she explains "most of them wouldn’t because they didn’t feel like they knew where to go. With the stress that musicians are under it’s more likely that the average musician is going to develop anxiety or depression from having a bad performance and setting off a trigger."
As a musician herself Miss Gallagher says she understands the pressures of working in the industry and can identify how performers are often mis-read in relation to mental health. She says the very act of performing in front of an audience can mislead people into thinking that the performer is a very confident and outgoing person, which is not always the case.
"You’re meant to be this entertainer, pouring your heart out, getting up on stage, and a lot of people can’t do that. So if you can get up on stage people think you’re not going to suffer with anxiety and I want to break that stigma. Mental health is a serious thing and anyone and everyone can experience it.
"I would be absolutely petrified to get back on stage now," she admits. "I’m a musician myself, but I haven’t been in the music scene for about a year. For one reason it’s because I had a baby, but it’s mainly because I suffered from anxiety and depression and that pushed me away from performing. So, it’s personal to me as well."
In an effort to help boost - what Miss Gallagher says is - an already thriving music scene in Swindon, she wants to break down the dog-eat-dog bravado within it, and instead create a safe space for musicians to network and not feel alone and suffer in silence with ill mental health. She says that whilst some people in the music industry preach about musicians working alongside each other, in reality it can often be more like a stressful competition.
"I interviewed some local musicians and they told me that one minute you can be filled with so much joy and feel like you’re on a really good path and then all of a sudden you can get dropped for somebody better and they’re just left.
“Some musicians are not wanting to speak to other musicians because they’re scared that they might not support them. But most of the time when somebody does ask for help, most musicians will have been there before or be in the same boat.”
Despite encountering some challenges, such as self-funding the entire event herself whilst on maternity leave, the masters student says she has been overwhelmed by the support she has received from local organisations and mental health practitioners, including Community Psychiatric Nurse for Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership, and friend, Charlotte Landers.
Miss Landers, who will be running a stall at the Swindon Mental Health Festival, said, "When Brin asked me to help out, I was really happy to be involved! I'm really passionate about making a difference and trying to normalise talking about mental health. I really wanted to spread the word about the services and the work that is going on in Swindon.
"I really didn’t expect so many people to want to get involved and be a part of this and it just goes to show how attitudes towards mental health are changing for the better."
Miss Gallagher says if an opportunity arises to host the event again, she would do it. “If next year’s an opportunity I had, I would definitely take it,” she adds.
“I’m feeling ready for the event, but without the support from the public mental health services I wouldn’t have been able to get where I am without them – they’ve been supporting this from the get-go and have given me so many more contacts. They’ve been amazing.
"I think there’s a massive opportunity for something like this to keep happening in Swindon. I’m really excited for it - I think it’s going to be the start of something as well. It’s going to be brilliant."
Acts confirmed for the event include local poet Rusty Goat, and singer-songwriters Emily Price and Jordan Marvel.
Swindon Mental Health Festival takes place Saturday 1 September at The Lawns, Old Town, from 12pm to 4pm and is free to attend.
On top of the event Miss Gallagher has also created a private Facebook group, Swindon Musicians Support. More information about the group will be available at the festival. To join the online community visit www.facebook.com/groups/452375738897969/.
For further information about Swindon Mental Health Festival visit www.facebook.com/events/789245744823723/