How music can help mental health and social isolation

After reading about The Music Men, I was keen to speak to the organiser behind it and find out more.

Graham Hanlon is the creator of the event, a monthly workshop aimed at raising awareness about men’s mental health issues. The workshop is open to all and aims to fight social isolation too, topics which don’t receive a lot of limelight but will no doubt affect each one of us.

Whether it be a personal experience or one shared through our home life, we can all be more proactive about men’s mental health in our communities.

For more information please see the Facebook group linked at the end of the interview and feel free to contact Graham if you have any questions, or would like to get involved as a volunteer or contributor.

Could you tell me about your background in music?

I’m a self-taught guitarist studying my HND at the Academy of Music and Sound. The first music I remember is my Mum playing The Kinks, The Beatles and the Beach Boys around the house when I was young and I was quite instantaneously hooked. I hadn’t thought much about playing or writing, just loved listening and jumping about to music.

When I got a bit older I heard Paul Weller, there was a tape of Stanley Road that was passed between my Dad and my friend’s dad. It was on constantly in the car and the tape deck in our house and it was then I started thinking I really wanted to play an instrument. I got right into Stereophonics, Oasis and stuff like that, and that’s where I started wanting to write my own music and get involved in bands.

I think I got my first guitar at fifteen and right away I wanted to make my own music, so I started playing in bands with a friend of mine Michael. We played together right up until our late twenties or early thirties, before disbanding the group we were in that time.

At that point I was working as a carpentry instructor for a training centre and I was in a crash on my Vespo scooter (another tie back to the whole Paul Weller thing) and I broke my leg in two places. I ended up at a crossroad in deciding what to do with my future, my career and what made me happy, and from there I decided that I wanted to pursue music as a career.

What can people expect from the afternoon with The Music Men?

Right now the format will be everybody comes in, says hello, and maybe have a wee ice breaker. Then we’ll have a session where we’ll listen to and discuss music. The whole point of that is to break down barriers, get people relaxed, get people comfortable, because what we’re trying to do is bring as many different people as possible together with their common love of music.

Hopefully that will give us all different genres to listen to, different styles, different opinions and it’ll get people talking. The idea of this is somebody might meet a kindred spirit, or have something in common with somebody, people might make bonds and friendships out of it and that’s the goal behind the sessions.

Then we’re looking at having a guest speaker or guest performer. Our very first guest performer is going to be a song writer called John Rush. I first met John back in the summer when he was supporting Paul Weller’s drummer Steve Pilgrim up in Edinburgh. He was a really, really nice and genuine guy, so he’s coming through to play some of his material which is absolutely fantastic.

We’re also looking at guest speakers who can come in and speak about their experiences either in music, or if they are a musician they might give a short class or tutorial.

We’re looking at getting a luthier to come in and give us a guitar class, someone who’s studied at the best schools in Scotland and London with a lot of expertise in guitar construction. We’ll be having a professional drummer who’s worked with some big names in music to come in and give us a class on the art of drumming too.

We’re trying to do as many different things to keep people interested and get people coming in because ultimately the whole point of The Music Men is to share information. I’m not a mental health professional so I can’t give anybody advice on that matter, I can always listen to people and if anybody wants to speak to me I’m always there to listen to them, but the whole point is we’re bringing people together through the love of music and we’re sharing information.

We are like an information vehicle, if you can imagine – I drew this out for somebody the other day, two stick men with a big space in the middle of them, and the first stick man says ‘I’m having problems with my mental health but I don’t know where to go’ and the stick man on the other side says ‘we’re here to offer you help with your mental health’, but one doesn’t know how to get to the other.

What we’re doing is trying to help them find the right people to go to and if we can get one person to the right people, even one person out of all the workshops we do in the space of however many months we might run for, then that’s been a success in my eyes. You only need to help one person.

We hope we get a lot of numbers, it’ll be good fun and we hope people enjoy it and want to come back.

What was your inspiration for creating a music workshop targeted at men’s mental health issues?

A couple of years ago I set up a Business and it was called East End Carpentry Studios, which was set up on the back of my grandfather passing away. When he passed away, we found diaries that he’d written in every day for ten years. My gran had passed away ten years previous and he wrote to her every day for those ten years until the day he died.

He had four children, six grandchildren, three great-grandchildren and he was very well liked, very well respected. But he was really, really lonely. We didn’t realise this because we’d go visit him, somebody would go visit him every day between us all but when they went away at night, it was just him on his own and I didn’t realise that until I read those diaries.

So I was setting up the business as a carpentery workshop and then I decided that after reading these, I would like to maybe try and help people who are socially isolated, people who have lost a spouse or maybe people who have some issues they are working through.

I got in touch with a veterans group and I ended up working with veterans aswell, and I found it hard to get them all involved in the carpentery but what I did find out was what they would always ask me about the guitar I kept in the workroom, and music, we’d always talk about music.

That business didn’t quite work out and whilst I was working in a training centre, and recovering from the crash where I’d injured my leg, that was where I had my own issues with mental health. I ended up having a bit of depression and anxiety, my anxiety actually came after the amount of medication and heavy painkillers I was on.

I was in crutches for three months and I obviously wasn’t feeling great about it all so I went to the doctor and spoke with them about it, and I realised that I had been holding back from going because I was scared, and that’s when I started realising a lot of the stigma around mental health and looked a lot more into it.

More recently a friend who I used to play football with committed suicide and nobody noticed the signs, and he was a great lover of music as well so I thought why not try and bring people together through music because everybody loves it.

Whether they can play an instrument or not, everybody loves music of some sort and I thought we could maybe use it to educate people, because that is the biggest problem – lots of people don’t know what mental health is, they don’t know what anxiety is.

A lot of people have these problems and they turn to drink, they turn to drugs, they lash out, they can’t explain what’s happening because they’re not educated about it. If we can provide some explanation to help or point them in the right direction then that’s the job done, and that’s why we’re using music this time, because it’s a lot more universal than working with wood.

How has the response to the group and workshop been so far?

The response from people who have seen our posts on Facebook and through word of mouth has been very positive and they’ve been very willing to help us. Davie – over at Music Minds Matters has offered us plenty of information and leaflets to hand out.

The staff at the Academy of Music and Sound have been very helpful and given me the space, equipment and facilities free of charge. They’ve been very supportive in helping me to set it up and providing me with information.

I’ve not had a lot of people engage to say they’re coming so I don’t know if people are going to turn up or not. I’m worried people might think this is purely for musicians only but it’s not, it’s for everybody, not just even men.

It’s to raise awareness of men’s mental health but obviously husbands have wives, fathers have daughters, and women have brothers. Women are more than welcome, anybody is welcome to attend this.

I’m hoping that we can get enough people to start getting the word out but so far it’s been very positive with the support and the idea, we just need to get people to come along and attend, enjoy it and spread the word.

The afternoon is aimed at men aspiring to work in the music industry, what sort of skills could the workshop develop for them?

Again, this is aimed at anybody – male, female, musician, non-musicians. Originally it was just targeting musicians but I think we need to widen the net and make it available to anybody, we don’t want to exclude people, it’s not the message we’re trying to send out.

For musicians who are interested, hopefully they can pick up some more skills and can learn some information as well from places like the Musicians Union about music law including copyright information and how to protect their intellectual material. It’s also a chance for musicians to network with other musicians, who they might not get to meet and mingle with in their normal circles or walks of life.

What are your thoughts on the mental health resources currently available to men in Scotland, and what more do you think could be done?

I can only give my opinion on my experiences and those of people I know, but the waiting times for people to speak to a professional are far too long in my opinion.

It’s not the fault of the NHS or the doctors, these mental health practitioners want to speak to as many people as they can and help as many people as they can, but their hands are tied by people a lot further up the chain.

I think that there’s ways that they could speed up the process – I think they could educate people, especially young people, and tell them what mental health is from a young age, about secondary school age. Because at that point there’s a lot happening, the world is changing, there’s social media and it makes it so much easier for people to become stressed out, anxious and to cut themselves off.

Even though we have all this technology at our finger tips it’s so easy for people to be cut off and isolated from the world. You don’t have to leave your house – you can order a pizza, you can get your shopping delivered to your door, you can pay all your bills, you can do all that you need to without leaving the door so we need to educate people and tell them what mental health issues are.

It might mean that they start noticing symptoms or problems a bit earlier, and go speak to somebody earlier and start the wheel spinning. I think they could put more mental health professionals in schools and have more people available to bridge the gap between initially going to see your doctor and going to get some sort of prescription for anti depressants – ‘there you go!’ because that’s all they can do.

There needs to be some bridge between that and the weeks that people wait to speak to somebody, and again I think it all comes down to educating people and making the information more readily available.

Do you have any future events planned for The Music Men?

At this exact point in time The Music Men is a pilot scheme, it’s not a charity, it’s not a business, it’s something that’s funded by me personally and ran by me in my spare time.

I’m looking, hopefully, for some more people to come in and volunteer with me to help me with stuff like social media and sourcing information, sourcing people to come and take part, and sourcing performers and speakers – stuff like that to make the community and the network bigger.

I would love it to be something that is mobile, that can go to places outwith Glasgow. We have a Facebook page where people are contacting us asking ‘are you in Bristol? Are you in Aberdeen? Birmingham?’.

Unfortunately right now, it’s baby steps and we’re just in Glasgow but I would love to be able to roll it out to everybody and go visit these people, spend an afternoon with them talking about music and giving them some information and watching people perform.

That would be the goal for me, taking it to schools, taking it to community centres, music events. I think that would be really advantageous to people and that’s where I’d love to see it going, maybe having our own mental health professionals so people can contact them or use us directly.

If we could be the bridge and supply the information to get somebody from point A to B, maybe in the meantime whilst somebody is waiting to be seen by B, they could speak to our people. That would be something to really aspire to and work towards.

Where can people keep up to date with The Music Men?

The best way to keep up to date with The Music Men is just to simply search us on Facebook and like the page, and just look out for our posts. Most importantly we’d love people to engage with the posts, we’d love ideas and suggestions – what would people love to see?

What would make it worth your while coming along to the workshop? What do we do good, what do we do bad? Some people might come along and not like it but if people are trying to keep up to date with us and follow us, we’d love their feedback as well and that would make it a lot easier for us to tailor what we’re trying to do, to really help people.

The Music Men Logo

To find out more information about the event on the 19th October 12-3pm click here

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