Listen to Austin 360 Radio

'People are really struggling.' SIMS Foundation helps during pandemic mental health crisis

Ley Line's Kate Robberson says the pandemic "was an opportunity for us to turn inward.”

The coronavirus pandemic shut the world down in March 2020 and the ensuing 14 months have not been easy. Beyond COVID-19 anxiety, isolation and economic devastation, we’ve weathered a divisive presidential election, police killings across the country that galvanized a civil rights movement and a winter storm that left thousands of Texans shivering in their homes for days.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and if you are struggling, Patsy Dolan Bouressa, executive director of the SIMS Foundation, wants you to know you’re not alone. 

“I think the biggest thing that people should know is we are actually in the middle of a mental health crisis,” Dolan Bouressa said during a recent episode of Austin360’s streaming show, the Monday Music Mashup.

From 2020:In Live Music Capital of the World, venues feel let down by Austin leaders

The SIMS Foundation provides low-cost mental health care to musicians and people who work in the music industry. When the music business ground to a halt last year, the organization saw a “massive increase” in people seeking services. The uptick has not stopped with the nonprofit’s client roster continuing “to just kind of inch up in numbers every single month,” Dolan Bouressa said. 

Though we’re beginning to emerge from the pandemic, she said people are experiencing “these kind of unexpected aftereffects of this thing that we just went through, this trauma that we all experienced.” 

Ley Line enrolled in the SIMS Foundation's band counseling program as a "preventative action" to support their mental wellness.

“I want everybody to know that we're hearing it daily,” she said. “People are really struggling with this sort of up and down roller coaster of emotions. So sometimes it just helps to know that there are others in the boat with you. And there are definitely others in the boat with you.” 

While music venuesaround the city are reopening, pandemic-related anxiety lingers.  

“We have lots of people, artists, who are too scared to go back and perform for a lot of reasons,” Dolan Bouressa said. Some are worried about their own safety, but the majority are far more preoccupied with “the thought of having a show and maybe their fans getting sick,” she said. They struggle with “what's the right thing to do.” 

On May 21, rising Austin acts Ley Line and Nané will play a benefit for SIMS at the Paramount Theatre. The venue will be operating at reduced capacity and masks will be required. To reduce the need for physical searches, only clear bags and small clutches will be allowed. 

Others are reading:Legacy Collective giving circle finds new strength in disaster response, diversity

Before the pandemic, both bands were on an upward trajectory. Ley Line was coming off a highly praised Austin City Limits Music Festival set and gearing up for a big South by Southwest when “all of a sudden, it was a moment where just one by one, we saw all of our shows like a domino effect just disappeared,” Kate Robberson, singer and ukulele player for Ley Line, said during the Monday Music Mashup. 

“You're really posed with kind of like, ‘Wow, how do I show up in the world when my main source of connection needs to be totally reimagined or transformed,’” she said.

Nané will play a benefit for SIMS at the Paramount Theatre on May 21.

For a period of time Robberson’s band, a group of four women who consider themselves family, isolated from each other, connecting via daily Zoom calls. Later they began meeting at parks. In the interim, they enrolled in the SIMS Foundation’s band counseling program. 

“It was an opportunity for us to turn inward,” Robberson said. “When we think of health, mental health, it's usually like, ‘Oh, I have to get help for an illness.’ But what about mental wellness, you know, like taking it as a preventative action?”

The band’s group therapy helped them to look at the way the world and their places in it were shifting and examine how those shifts impacted their relationships with each other.

With gigs off the calendar, they decided to use the downtime to create in other ways. They taught themselves how to use editing software and created a podcast called Following Ley Line. 

"I called this period the time of silver linings, which is a huge privilege to be able to even look for those," Robberson said. Ley Line was able to finish a film that they've been working on for almost three years featuring footage shot on the band's 2017 tour. 

The film will screen at the May 21 show alongside a film created by Nané.

“You can really feel that within both of the films, there's this theme, this current of connection and support, and unity and resiliency and how we can use music as a guiding force to lead us through the roller coaster of life,” Robberson said. 

Ley Line and Nané live at the Paramount Theatre

When: 8 p.m., May 21

Where: 713 Congress Ave.

Cost: $25-$55

Information: austintheatre.org. Information about other Mental Health Awareness month events and how to request services from SIMS Foundation is available at simsfoundation.org