MusicMusic Features

Brain Aid Fest Raises Mental Health Awareness

Oct. 10 is World Mental Health Day, and to celebrate, Athens residents are invited to attend a seven-day festival put on by local nonprofit Brain Aid. The group was formed in 2017, when founder Stephen Cramer says he was struggling with bipolar disorder. He began thinking about Live Aid, which raised money to help eradicate Ethiopian famine, and thought it was up to him to begin a similar festival to fundraise for mental health services. 

Cramer says it can be difficult to talk about depression, especially for those who have never struggled with their mental health. He says he thinks of depression on a scale of one to 10—while the worst would be described as a 10, Cramer says there are too many people who spend a majority of their lives in the middle of the spectrum, never seeking help. 

“I say to people, think of depression on a scale of one to 10, and I spent huge chunks of my life at a five,” Cramer says. “That’s a tragedy, too, because people aren’t being their best.”

This year’s Brain Aid Fest will begin on Sunday, Oct. 6 at Hendershot’s with a mental health panel featuring Mayor Kelly Girtz. The festival will continue throughout the week at seven different venues. Each event will begin with a speaker who will share their experience with mental health, followed by live music. Performers include Je Suis France, Scott Spillane, Annie Leeth, Michael Potter, Donny Knottsville, SoHi and more.

This is Brain Aid Fest’s third iteration, and this year, comedians will be added to the mix. Cramer says he thinks both music and laughter can help with mental health and can make it easier for those struggling to open up about their experiences. 

Cramer’s theory that music can aid those struggling with mental health is scientifically sound. In a study published by Newsweek, “Music fans who attend concerts once every two weeks or more ‘were the most likely to score their happiness, contentment, productivity and self-esteem at the highest level.’” Variations of the same study have been published by Alternative Press, Vice, Billboard and more. 

In addition to the effects concerts can have on the brain, Cramer says that seeing others speak out about their struggles can reduce the stigma around mental health, especially in men. Long before Cramer started Brain Aid, he started a Facebook group called “Dudes Helping Dudes” in 2011. The group was formed to be a safe space for men struggling with their mental health, and Cramer encouraged men who joined the group to speak openly about their emotions. 

The positive response Cramer received from the group showed Cramer that a safe space is exactly what many who struggle with mental health need to be able to ask for help. This is why he began Brain Aid—to tell people that it’s OK to ask for help and to point them to resources that can assist. 

“It takes bravery to walk in and say, ‘Can I get some help?’” Cramer says. “So, every way I can make that easier for people—to give them the bravery to take that step—is what I want to do.” 

This year, those resources are expected to grow exponentially. In this year’s SPLOST, the Athens-Clarke County government has budgeted over $5 million for a new mental health recovery facility. Cramer says that this, in addition to the facilities and organizations that Athens already has, will help those struggling take the steps they need to get better. 

Cramer’s financial goal from the festival is $6,000, with $5,000 going towards advertising to encourage people to seek help and the rest going into a scholarship fund. He says the scholarship will be awarded to a student planning to go into the psychological field; as more people seek help, more providers will be necessary.

Cramer adds that if Brain Aid helps even one attendee, all his efforts have been worth it. “I just want to inspire people, one person at a time,” he says. 

The full Brain Aid Fest schedule and more information can be found on Facebook.