Michael Berg

Over the years dealing with my own mental health struggles, and/or of those surrounding me in both my personal and professional life, I have contemplated the various ways that we as humans acknowledge and process the severity of the matter. While some respond reactionarily, preventively, and/or in an effort to manage existing mental illness, others lack compassion in judgment and the loving nature of acceptance, understanding, and education about the topic. I’ve tried to wrap my head as well around the source point and varying degrees of mental health challenges caused by either circumstance, an actual biological & chemical imbalance, or worse, a combination of them both.
A public conversation regarding mental health seems to only rear its head when something tragic happens in the form of an incident or episode with someone who suffers from a mental health condition such as depression, bipolar disorder, or anxiety etc.. For some reason the stigma around the topic often tends to be reactionary as opposed to identifying preventive measures, or ways to normalize these situations to best adapt, medicate, or form habits that can help combat the grueling effects mental health can take on your mind, emotions and even physical well being.
The rise of issues and challenges surrounding mental health for all of us in the extended concert industry–and music business at large–have been magnified due to the ruthless and unforgiving shut down of all events and mass gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This has equally affected our peers in the hospitality, food, and beverage industry as well.
How are we expected to handle being stripped of our livelihood, community, and source of income, while simultaneously being forced to isolate in loneliness either by ourselves or with our partners/families/housemates? What do those of us suffering need to cope with or treat these problems? How can we truly support and do our part as friends, family, spouses, significant others, co-workers, employees, employers, partners, bandmates, managers, agents, assistants, or roommates? What strides can we take to understand and learn how to do our part to alleviate the suffering and mitigate the risk of someone hurting themselves, taking their own lives, giving up on their dreams, or just feeling down?
The urgency around these questions and answers could never be summed up in one story. I am only a concert industry professional, and certainly not a licensed or qualified therapist/life coach. That said, I have experienced the savagery of the shut down first hand, and have had countless conversations with people from all walks of life during this time who have as well. Below you’ll find some thoughts that have crossed my mind during these months of quarantine to avoid and adhere to in hopes of overcoming this monumental moment in time, overflowing with self-doubt, loneliness, fear-mongering, paranoia, and financial burden. As we all do our best to weather the storm of this mess of a year that’s been presented to us all, let’s not catch ourselves a year from now, wishing we had started something new now. That could be a pivot in how you generate income, a healthy habit, finding happiness, and striving for self-improvement. Search for answers on the best way to address your mental health status and what you can do to be healthier.
Self-reflection is paramount. No one knows you, better than yourself. Ask yourself why you feel the way you do. Talk to people you trust about it. Communication helps. Social distancing doesn’t mean total seclusion. Connect with your people. Send a text, make a call, schedule a zoom, do a facetime etc.. Don’t wait for someone to reach out to you, as everyone is going through it right now as well. The human condition is often suffering and it’s good to remember that we never know what someone else is experiencing, or should expect that others know how we are each doing. The effects of spiraling down an even darker hole from too much time on social media, the sensationalism of the news media, and each of our positions in the fight for civil rights, justice, and equality in race, religion, sexual preference & identity, has played a further negative role in mental health this year. Try taking a break from, or rationing your screen time. Do something creative. Paint a picture, write a song, plot world domination, learn to cook, start a garden, rearrange your bedroom, or living room furniture. Avoid substance consumption as a crutch or escape mechanism, and be self-aware of the difference between addiction and the path towards it, and an uptick in consumption habits, due to boredom. Get outside in nature, even if that’s just a walk around the neighborhood by yourself or with a friend! Fresh air and vitamin D from sunshine are highly underrated. Drink a ton of water. Eat healthy and nutritious foods as often as possible. But once in a while, treat yourself and have a comfort food cheat day. Try to find something to do at least once a day that makes you happy. Make it part of your routine so you have something to look forward to. Try your hardest to search for silver linings in the downtime and happenstance of this situation. Look for realistic solutions to the financial burden of being out of work, and losing your job or a client. Remember this is all temporary, so if you pick up a gig outside of your normal thing, know that it isn’t locking you into that as a permanent future. Feel proud of yourself for doing what you need to do to survive. Take one day at a time, and don’t try to figure it all out at once. It’s complicated and this is uncharted territory. Apply for unemployment insurance and other government financial aid programs like PPP & SBA loans. Some of them have forgivable portions which act like grants for income. Do your research to understand what you’re signing up for regarding the rules of how that money can be spent and is expected to be repaid. Even elite billionaires, corporations, and small businesses are generating income from a lot of these programs, so why shouldn’t you?
While the aforementioned paragraph applies to everyone, it is most helpful for those suffering from circumstantial mental health struggles. If your condition is more serious or feels deeper, please get in touch with the folks at Backline so they can refer you to a professional in the network that can help diagnose a biological or genetic issue you may be suffering from, and define a treatment plan customized specifically for you. You can also call your primary doctor for a referral as well.  It’s cliche and overused but sincerely, you are not alone. We’re all in this together even more than normal during this time. It is ok to not be ok, but recognize it, and deal with the challenges accordingly from there. My inbox is always open on social media if anyone reading this could use a sounding board and/or a friend. (IG: @iamvanghost)
-Michael Berg