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Let’s Talk About Music and Mental Health

A Goa-based organization is looking to bridge the gap between Indian musicians/festival-goers and emotional well-being

Urvija Banerji Sep 21, 2017

Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington committed suicide in July 2017. Photo: Stefan Brending/Wikimedia Commons

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In India, the discussion about mental health remains sparse, and the conversation around mental health and music is virtually non-existent. That’s where Tatva comes in. The Anglo-Indian organisation is based out of Goa, and was founded by licensed mental health professionals Kripi Malviya and David Stanton as a psychotherapy clinic. It has been attempting to open up the mental health conversation in India for some time now, and is the only organization in the country that places a specific focus on the intersection of therapy and art.

Earlier this year, South-Asian American transgender poet and rights activist Alok Vaid-Menon completed a therapeutic residency at Tatva Now, the organization is looking to broaden its reach to the country’s growing music community. “If you look at people like Amy Winehouse, [or] the lead singer of Linkin Park who’s just committed suicide: creative people tend to be creative because they’re emotional,” explains Stanton. “That’s where their creativity comes from. But they don’t tend to get the emotional support they need.”

Mental health professionals David Stanton [L] and Kripi Malviya founded Tatva. Photo: Courtesy of Tatva

Musicians are often under tremendous amounts of pressure—whether that’s financial, familial or the stress that comes with putting their music out there and playing it in front of audiences. “I’ve been with artists who have either had a complete freak-out before going on stage, or after stage, because they’re human. They get anxious, they get scared,” says Stanton, who has provided mental health services to numerous international artists in the past. “On stage, I’ve worked with a very famous musician—I won’t say who it is but I’m sure you know—he got a huge adrenaline buzz from doing massive, huge concerts, but when he came off stage, he just crashed emotionally and needed psychological support.”

He explains that record labels rarely provide musicians with the kind of emotional support needed to cope with the job of being a musician. “A lot of people put a lot of effort into their physical health, but they don’t tend to put a lot of effort into mental health until it goes wrong,” he says. “A lot of our work is prevention rather than cure.”

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Tatva want to invite musicians to spend therapeutic residencies with them at their base in Goa, much like they did with Vaid-Menon. “We give them the option of therapeutic support while they’re staying with us,” says Malviya. “This would mean whether they want to talk about performance anxiety, they want to talk about how difficult it is to convince their family of what they want to do and how to balance the fact that this is who they want to become, but that’s what their parents want them to do. We will work with them, that’s personal, confidential with them.”

Amy Winehouse who died in 2011 suffered from drug and alcohol abuse as well as eating disorders. Photo: Courtesy image

The residencies would work two-fold: at some point, the musician would be invited to share their work with a local audience. “Once they’ve experienced the artist’s work, then we would have a facilitated discussion afterwards, with the people who were at the event, and invite them to specifically talk about how they felt about it,” says Malviya. “It’s a very ‘let’s start talking about how we feel.’”

As a way of getting through to more musicians, who may not be aware of the emotional wellness options available to them, Malviya and Stanton have been working hard to tie up with Indian record labels and music collectives. Mumbai’s fledgling Jwala collective and Reproduce Listening Room are already set to collaborate with Tatva in late October. In addition, the organization is in talks with a major indie music label to organize a therapeutic residency for their artists in January 2018. If things go well, there’s even scope for long-term commitment. “Around the world, there’s only a couple of organizations that tie up with record companies or labels and say hey, we’re going to be your dedicated emotional wellness partner,” says Malviya. “So that’s precisely what I’m trying to establish [here].”

Tatva have already been quietly revolutionizing the conversation around mental health and music in India in one key way—via their yearly wellness area at Magnetic Fields. As India’s festival scene mushrooms rapidly, so does the need for mental health support at the myriad festivals. Festival-goers around the world are prone to experimenting with mind-altering substances, and Indian festival-goers are no different. Stanton organized the wellness area at Glastonbury in the UK for several years, and when he and Malviya formed Tatva they found that there was no equivalent setup at any Indian festivals.

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Malviya explains that the team reached out to several of the major Indian music festivals a few years ago, offering to set up emotional wellness areas—but at the time, the only festival that responded was Magnetic Fields. “I think that had a lot to do with the fact that Sarah Fatemi is an English national, and she had experienced festivals with welfare areas,” says Malviya.

Tatva is now in talks to provide welfare areas at several other major festivals around the country. “Now, thankfully, people are like, ‘Oh yeah, we do need that,” Malviya says, “because we will have people who are going to struggle, and we’re going to either have to hand them to the police, or take them in the back of an ambulance van, or the third thing is that your parents will get called’—all these things which don’t actually help the person who is struggling.”

Tatva’s welfare area at Magnetic Fields. Photo: Vishakha Jindal

The organization will be providing a dedicated emotional welfare tent at Magnetic Fields for the third year now—and it’s not just psychedelic drug overdoses that they treat. “We had everything from somebody who’d cut a finger to somebody who’d gotten into a fight with their boyfriend to somebody who had a 12-hour long psychotic episode due to taking something that they didn’t understand,” says Malviya. She explains that many of the people who end up needing the welfare area are often the musicians themselves, who suddenly find themselves within easy access of mood-altering substances after they finish playing their sets.

“We want to be the buffer between the uniformed person who’s going to do whatever, and the festival,” Malviya says. The tents also serve an educational purpose: “[Festival-goers are] getting no information on their health whatsoever, whether that’s about staying hydrated, or that’s about the kind of tents that they’re staying in, or safety about something that somebody might offer you in a drink, or mixing certain things with certain things.” Tatva’s wellness areas aim to help festival-goers make informed choices about the substances they take. “That’s why it’s called harm reduction,” she says.

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