Health check #1: The Roll Of Honour 2020 talk mental health in music

Health check #1: The Roll Of Honour 2020 talk mental health in music

The 24 executives on the Music Week Women In Music Roll Of Honour 2020 have opened up on the debate surrounding mental health in the industry.

After two special issues featuring Q&A interviews with this year’s honourees, this week, we find out what the Roll Of Honour make of how the music business protects the execs and artists that form its lifeblood.

We’ll be publishing their answers to the question of whether the industry is doing enough to protect mental health in two parts, read the first one below.

Jackie Alway, EVP, international legal & industry affairs, Universal Music Publishing Group

“One in four people struggle with mental health challenges, so this is a hugely important subject. Universal is certainly taking this aspect of our working lives extremely seriously with an extensive program of support being made available to staff. Measures in place include the availability of trained mental health first aiders, fast access to help with stress, anxiety and depression and a full employee assistance programme. 

“Our mission to ensure that writers and artists are at the centre of everything we do includes being alert to the need for support with any mental well-being issues. There is a 24/7 helpline for staff needing to access help for artists.

“There is much that can and should be done to support individual companies’ efforts. The MPA helps by sharing information about members’ initiatives to maximise the benefits of best practices. Examples of efforts by MPA members include physical exercise workshops, counselling, befriender networks, mentoring and nutritional advice. The MPA is also running a series of Mental Wellness webinars with its partner Music & You – focusing so far on time and space in lockdown, communicating and confidence building.

“There is always more to be done, but the fact that you are asking this question is a positive indication of how mental health awareness has been rightfully prioritised.”

Vanessa Bakewell, global client partner, Facebook

“There is always more to be done. Passion and enthusiasm can get taken for granted when you are starting your career and throughout. Long hours. Feeling pressure to say, ‘Yes’ to too many projects. Taking on too much work. Wellbeing must be at the heart of career development conversations. Leaders need to ask their teams and colleagues how they are doing in and outside of their work. Do they have balance? Do they have time to switch off and recharge? The answer will be ‘No’, too often. Passion is infectious and motivating. We cannot take that passion for granted and we need to protect people’s energy levels and help them manage that to fulfill their potential. We need to encourage people to prioritise and focus on the things that give them energy and will accelerate their career. Not to take on everything too soon. See a career as a marathon and not a race. Empathy and kindness need to be the norm. If we expect people to bring their authentic selves to work then we have to be ready to embrace all that comes with that. We need to protect and nurture.”


The hardest thing to do is taking the step to talk about mental health problems

Lesley Bleakley, Beggars Group


Lynne Best, head of communications, PPL

“Progress in recognising and tackling the challenge of mental health in the business has been slow, but there has been definite progress in recent years. One of the great things about working at PPL has been the company’s focus on wellbeing and the introduction of Wellbeing Wednesdays and other activities. When lockdown came along, we also started receiving daily emails with advice, resources and information as well as invitations to training and wellbeing events online. The support has been great.

“Covid-19 is now changing the nature of the challenge we have with mental health. We were already connected 24/7 to work via our devices and now, working from home, many find it hard to establish a healthy work/life balance. It takes real discipline and a lot of trial and error to learn how to fully switch off at the end of the day and close the virtual door on work. This is a new era for us all, and a new approach from many companies across the business will need to be considered to safeguard the health and wellbeing of staff, from interns to young professionals and right up to senior management.”

Lesley Bleakley, director of catalogue & archive, Beggars Group 

“I can’t talk about other companies as Beggars is the only company I have ever worked for, but we certainly take it seriously and have a multitude of programmes available to our staff, including the Beggars Wellbeing Team. The hardest thing to do is taking the step to talk about mental health problems, not everyone can do that as there is still a stigma attached, but knowing that there is support available has got to be a really good thing. We have also supported a great charity called Music Support, which is run by people from the music community and is a great resource.”

Whitney Boateng, booker, Metropolis/Live Nation/co-founder, #TheShowMustBePausedUK

“I personally don’t think the industry is doing enough to protect the mental heath of its workers and artists at all levels. There is far too much pressure involved and I feel that there is not enough emphasis on people switching off when necessary. It’s something I hope gets better as time goes on.”


There is an immense pressure that so many of us feel

Afryea Henry-Fontaine


Lisa Cullington, vice president, creative (publishing) BMG UK

“It’s moving strongly in the right direction, but there is obviously lots more to do. It’s definitely recognised now and the stigma is starting to change. The pandemic has brought it very much to the forefront of companies’ minds to look after their staff and clients. BMG does this incredibly well.”

Afryea Henry-Fontaine, marketing director, Motown UK/EMI Records, co-founder of The Black Music Coalition and The DeBrief 

“Truthfully, more can always be done. There is an immense pressure that so many of us feel which has only been intensified within this ‘new normal’ we are living in. It’s so important for us and the industry to understand that we are not robots and so it is vital that there is a robust infrastructure and support established within each company to not only assist but to encourage staff and our artists to actively prioritise balanced mental health at all times.” 

Safiya Lambie-Knight, lead, artist & label partnerships (genre & culture specialist), Spotify

“In general, there is a lack of understanding of what mental health is, especially within the creative industries. We all have physical and mental health! Yet conditions of mental and physical health are often treated differently. I also think a lot of managers aren't trained well enough or given the right support. Just because you are successful and great at what you do, doesn't mean you can manage people effectively and I have seen the impact that can have on individuals’ mental health.” 

Sara Lord, SVP international sync & project development, Concord 

"Yes, and no. The conversations are now happening and that would seem to be the first vital step, the acknowledgement of how fragile we all are. We are getting there. But there is always more to be done."

Naomi Pohl, deputy general secretary, Musicians' Union

"Absolutely not. I love this industry, I love my job and sometimes it’s painful to say, ‘We’re not doing enough’, but I feel we’ve really only scratched the surface of the mental health and well-being crisis. Covid has obviously made it much worse. People are in financial hardship, they’ve lost work, they’re isolated. I think the long tail of the Covid impact on mental health could last years. And even in better times we know we lose far too many colleagues and artists to addiction and suicide. So much more needs to be done. That’s why I love to see organisations like Music Support spring into life. That’s a charity led by people with direct experience, who get the music industry and are helping colleagues in a very practical and hands-on way. There is some good support in the industry now, such as the Help Musicians' Music Minds Matter hotline, but again, this needs work from the whole industry in order to effect real change."


People are in financial hardship, they’ve lost work, they’re isolated

Naomi Pohl, Musicians' Union


Helen Thomas, head of station, BBC Radio 2

"It’s brilliant that there are a lot more conversations around mental health, especially at the moment with Covid-19. Mental health is something we’ve always been proud to champion at Radio 2 – with our DJ fronted Feel Good Gardens at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show a few years ago, and also by joining with our colleagues in commercial radio and across the BBC Radio Networks to support the annual Mental Health Minute. Jeremy Vine tackles the topic regularly on his lunchtime show – we want to be part of the solution for our audience as well as highlighting the issue." 

Natalie Wade, founder/CEO, Small Green Shoots & co-founder/CEO, Cats Mother

“Nope, but it's getting better. I like the way organisations like Help Musicians are approaching it and companies like Kobalt are including mental health provision in their policies. I am proud of the Fundamentals project Small Green Shoots trying to nip these issues in the bud for teenage creatives also.”

Revisit our stories on how the Roll Of Honour would change the music business here and here. Look our for more from the Roll Of Honour later this week.

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