With Suicide Prevention Month during September and World Mental Health Day on Oct. 10, the fall season provides an opportunity for prolific discussions about mental health. In Athens, Brain Aid, Inc. hopes to raise mental health awareness and reduce the stigmatization of mental health through music at its third annual Brain Aid Fest.
Brain Aid Fest is a week-long festival during which local musicians will perform at different venues around Athens. Beginning on Oct. 6 and ending on Oct. 12, each night will consist of at least six performances.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2015, there were an estimated 43.4 million adults – about one in five Americans aged 18 or older – with mental illness. In 2017, suicide was the 10th leading cause of death overall in the United States, claiming the lives of over 47,000 people, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
“Mental Health is part of your health,” said Stephen Cramer, founder of Brain Aid, Inc. “So, often attendees will take home more than the music from Brain Aid Fest.”
The first night will take place at Hendershot’s and will feature performances by Universal Sigh and Five Eight. Throughout the week, venues include Nowhere Bar, The Max Athens, Flicker Theatre and Bar and Go Bar.
Local violinist Annie Leeth is scheduled to perform on World Mental Health Day at The World Famous.
“I have a really chilled out, ambient sound,” Leeth said. “I try to be a stress reliever, letting everyone just kind of listen and take a breath.”
Although this is her first time performing at Brain Aid Fest, Leeth said she attended a few performances during last year’s fest. This year, she said she is looking forward to the collective effort of healing that takes place during the shows.
“Music is a therapeutic thing,” Leeth said. “People are talking about past experiences that they're trying to live with now, and it seems like music and the arts are really helpful with that type of thing.”
Cramer said he drew inspiration for his efforts from a combination of history, personal mental health struggles and his mother’s influence.
Before Cramer moved to Athens, he lived in Detroit where he helped organize concerts and music festivals. During this time, he began to formulate an idea for what would eventually become Brain Aid Fest.
“When I was dealing with my own depression, I asked myself why there wasn’t a Live Aid or a Farm Aid for mental health,” Cramer said.
Live Aid was a benefit concert held in 1985 which helped raise funds to contribute to the relief of the ongoing Ethiopian Famine. Farm Aid, which also began in 1985, is an annual benefit concert that raises money for family farmers.
In developing Brain Aid Fest, Cramer drew on this method of affecting change through the shared experience of music.
“I'm a big proponent of not isolating, even though I sometimes isolate myself,” Cramer said. “But I think getting people out to concerts is a very communal thing, almost spiritual.”
Cramer said his first step in developing the festival was commissioning the help of an artist and friend for the logo. Brain Aid’s logo, a smart layering of a heart, a guitar and a brain, also features a smiley face Cramer’s mother drew before her death in 2012. Cramer said his mother was also a mental health advocate.
“She was my mental health hero,” Cramer said. “What my mom taught me is to always try the next thing. You don't give up.”
In the future, Cramer hopes to bring more awareness to brain health and recruit a wider range of talent.
“I would like to include as many different genres as well as different cultures,” Cramer said.
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, resources are available at https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/.