The SIMS Foundation grows to support the mental well-being of all music professionals
We have all idolized a particular band or singer whose music spoke to us. We went to their concerts, played their music, and constantly searched for more content. This adoration leads us to believe that musicians can exist in their own societal category, separated from the average viewer or pop-rock fan. Yet putting these artists on a pedestal makes us forget that musicians are not infallible. Musicians need a support system, like you or me, but one that meets their unique needs. Today, this specific support mechanism is the SIMS Foundation.
The SIMS Foundation is an Austin, Texas-based non-profit organization that provides affordable mental health and addiction recovery services to musicians, dependents of musicians, and other industry professionals. Founded in 1995, their mission is to “destigmatize and reduce mental health and addiction issues, while supporting and enhancing the well-being of the music community as a whole”.
To better understand this non-profit organization and its growing importance, American Songwriter met with one of the co-founders, Alejandro Escovedo, and current Managing Director, Patsy Bouressa, to discuss the history and future of SIMS.
Escovedo is a musician himself, a legendary singer-songwriter who has been touring since the 1970s. He grew up in a large family of musicians in San Antonio, Texas, and began his career embracing punk rock. After playing for the Nuns, he joined Rank and File and then the True Believers. Escovedo also worked on his solo career along the way and released a total of 16 studio albums. Overall, Escovedo was born to be a musician – there are melodies embedded in his soul. But if music animates and fascinates him, it also tries to tear him apart.
“I didn’t sell a lot of records,” Escovedo said honestly, “but I made records that really expressed something that I really had to say. So what I’m saying is as a touring musician we made our money [by] tour.”
“And the work is hard. It’s so difficult… you are always told no. “This song has no place on record,” “you’re not good enough,” “you don’t sing well enough,” “you don’t play well enough,” Escovedo explained. “The sacrifice that musicians make and the life of a traveling musician is rarely understood by the fan. Most people don’t really think about the time, effort, and psychological wear and tear of a traveling musician.
“Being a traveling musician, the pitfalls are there, be it alcohol, drugs, women. The hours are long. You don’t come home with a lot of money, ”he continued. “There are a lot of things that put a lot of strain on your relationships with people because you are so gone. And while you make music and try to make a living for someone at home [who is] keep the fire in the house, take the children to school, do the dishes, pay the rent, [etcetera]- it leads to a lot of relationship dysfunctions and a lot of broken relationships.
As Escovedo delved into the darker side of the music industry, he fondly recounted how his life changed in the early 1990s. “My wife committed suicide. I had a six-month-old girl, who is now 29, and my daughter Maya, nine. It was obviously a very, very important and tragic blow for my life and for my children. So I tried to raise them myself and be a musician.
In the midst of his unimaginable grief, Escovedo’s life dragged on and he did all he could to support his family.
Then, in 1995, Escovedo got a call about the family of another musician who was floundering in his own grief. Don Harvey and Wayne Nagel were calling about the suicide of Sims Ellison, the prodigious songwriter and bassist of the band Pariah. Together with Don Ellison, Sims’ father, they wanted to make sure that the musicians and their families were better supported. They have strived to support musicians struggling with mental health or addiction issues.
With the addition of attorney Walter Taylor, the SIMS Foundation was established that year in honor of Sims Ellison. Sims had lost his fight with depression but inspired others to fight.
“We started with $ 5,000, which seemed like a lot of money back then. Immediately we were inundated with people who needed help because we chose to help not only the musicians but their families, anyone who depended on the musician was included, ”Escovedo said.
In 1995, and today, the SIMS Foundation is the only non-profit of its kind. No other organization offers mental health services specifically to musicians and their dependents. Today, in the wake of a global pandemic, SIMS seeks to develop itself as the gatekeeper of the music industry.
“We really moved away from a reactionary organization, which we had historically been, to become a much more proactive organization,” Patsy Bouressa told American Songwriter.
“[We are] really focused on wellness and trying to get that message out to people before they get into crisis. That way, maybe we could get someone to advise rather than call us when it all falls apart completely and they need a much higher level of care. We have been very successful in doing this through our community trainings that we offer to anyone in the music industry… Really just to educate people that it is okay to ask for help, even if you do. just have a little trouble. It’s good to talk about these issues.
Bouressa is an impressive mental health advocate and after obtaining her Masters of Social Work from the University of Texas at Austin, she worked with different organizations to promote mental wellness. In her current role at SIMS, Bouressa conveys a message of compassion.
“There is no human on the planet who has not struggled emotionally at some point. We all struggle at some point. Part of the human condition is hitting times in your life when things are untenable. Emotionally, you are unregulated and find it difficult to be just human. And when we talk about the mental health side, we are talking about emotional well-being. There is nothing wrong with finding a therapist to help you get through this struggle, ”she said.
“The other thing is [that] if people do have a diagnosable disorder, it is no different having a chronic physical condition. We don’t stigmatize people with high blood pressure, we don’t tell them it’s their choice and it’s a character flaw, but we do for people who have depression or substance use disorders. . This is what I like to talk about – these are chronic illnesses that are no different from chronic physical illnesses, and we have to start educating ourselves to understand that this is a real fact … these are chronic illnesses that can be managed, but often are very difficult to manage by hitting it and finding it out on your own.
SIMS offers a variety of programs and courses to support this message and struggling musicians. Bouressa explained that SIMS has modules that provide education on mental health and how to recognize mental health issues in others. They also offer a module called “Substance Use Recovery 101” which debunks myths and supports people in the recovery process. Additionally, SIMS works with a non-profit organization called Communities for recovery who trains music industry professionals to administer the drug that helps someone who has just overdosed.
SIMS offers a variety of other programs that support the well-being of industry professionals and continues to expand its reach.
Bouressa concluded our conversation by describing a world famous musician that SIMS has helped recover from alcoholism through their programs. She stressed that their work is job. Musicians and their families are healthier thanks to SIMS.
Donate to the SIMS Foundation here, and support the launch of their Founder’s Challenge here. You can also send a “SIMS” SMS to 44321. The Founder’s Challenge brings SIMS to a national stage and opens the door to significant geographic expansion.