Depression and anxiety are issues that affect everybody at some point in their lives, to varying degrees. Speaking from my own experience, they are often debilitating and, at best, inhibiting in many facets of life – in particular the nightlife industry; clubs, parties, after-parties – the social events that form the foundation of the business I work in. Escapism plays a big part in clubbing. For me, there’s nothing better than music when it comes to offering some kind of therapy for the stresses and strains that life can throw my way. But sometimes the lifestyle that comes with it can exacerbate the symptoms.
Here I speak with Prosumer, who has suffered from depression since his teens, and Laura Nolan, whose son Josh was involved in Edinburgh’s nightlife and took his own life in 2013 after a long battle with depression. Laura has set up a charity in Josh’s name to educate people about mental health and to offer support to people who are suffering. She has since been nominated for Scotswoman Of The Year…
Are there any organisations in Scotland, besides your charity, that deal with this kind of issue?
Laura: There are several organisations in Scotland who operate in the mental health area but we’re unique in providing access to quality counselling for those who cannot afford to fund it themselves. The Samaritans also have a 24-hour hotline, but we wanted to raise awareness by running events; half marathons, and even club nights too actually, to really alert people to this issue.
It’s one of those things that’s not really acknowledged within the industry, too.
Prosumer: I would say it’s swept under the carpet, actually. Everybody goes out to have a good time but, if you’re not feeling it, you can feel a pressure to go out and try to act in a similar way to everyone else to fit in, which can take you further into that negative space. When I started talking about depression so many people got in touch with me and said, ‘I have nobody to talk to’, a lot of people felt they were the only one. If people had the feeling that they were allowed to talk about it, they would feel less isolated and would get more support for how they’re feeling. It really seems like a complete taboo to speak this subject.
Yeah, I’ve suffered with anxiety and depression at different stages of my life, and still do to varying degrees, so I understand your point. Can you tell me about your personal experience with depression and nightlife…
Prosumer: I started to get depressed from puberty onwards. I won’t hold it against my parents that they didn’t pick up on it. With boys in particular, it’s not unusual for teenagers to lock themselves up in their room and spend a lot of time alone. For parents it’s normal to assume they’re up there masturbating all the time, I guess! It’s hard to realise your own kid might actually be feeling depressed. It was there for a long time and I always felt really isolated; as I said before, you feel different, you force yourself to act like other people and that made it worse. It was many many years until I could finally reach out and ask for help.
How did you manage to get help?
Prosumer: I’m lucky that there was a helpline in Berlin that I could use, at no cost and very uncomplicated. They asked me to come in the very next day and talk about things, and it took no time to finally see a therapist. In Germany, generally, it takes maybe two or three months before you can see a therapist – I always turned to music to give me comfort, that was my connection to the nightlife and what helped me to feel much better. That darker part of my personality is clearly something that has no place at the weekend, no one wants to hear about that and of course, I don’t ever want to miss gigs because I’m depressed. It’s something that doesn’t get spoken about at all; all the DJs and live acts, they are performers and they give a lot, they give a big part of themselves during the weekends and bring a lot of people joy with that – but their weeks aren’t always the same as the weekend.
So there’s a big difference between the weekends and ‘normal life’ and I see a lot of my colleagues struggling with that. You have to find a balance, some people try to party all the time, which won’t get them anywhere in the long run, and some people are trying to find more of a balance but there’s a lot of isolation and it can be quite rough for a lot of people.
For sure, I’ve spoken to people behind the scenes who have definitely been affected. How common have you found it to be from your experiences?
Prosumer: People will not usually open up publicly about this kind of thing. People will talk to me in private moments but I have to say most of them, including me sometimes, put on a brave face. As I said nobody is paying us to stand there and say, ‘Oh, I don’t feel so happy today’. Of course, part of our job is to bring happiness and motivate people to have a good time and dance, so it’s understandable. It’s in private when people will talk about how they really feel.
Outside of the industry there will of course be a lot of paying customers who also feel anxious or depressed and not finding any answers in the club world.
Prosumer: Laura and I were talking about how some DJs are not necessarily promoting a healthy lifestyle. We all know that the environment in which I work is not one where people are particularly sober and I don’t want to condemn any use of substances that allow people to have an escape but it’s often celebrated in a way that people think it’s… it’s almost glamourised, which can be dangerous.
Yeah, if you’re already slightly unstable then partaking in that kind of behaviour will only amplify your symptoms. What got you to the point where you felt ready to call the hotline in Berlin?
Prosumer: It wasn’t at a low point actually. In theory you’d think it would be that point where you don’t know what to do anymore but for me it was a stage where I was feeling better and had more energy. I thought, ‘Ok, I want to be in charge of my own life, I want to be able to deal with this’. I was so sick of the darkness taking over me. For everything in life we have our experts now and specialists we turn to, but it’s still difficult when it comes to mental issues. I had to get over that, ‘Oh, I’m so weak because I need to ask for help’ mentality. I needed to realise that it wasn’t a weakness. I realised that I could be helped and it was ok that I couldn’t do alone and needed someone to help me deal with being who I am.
How are you nowadays?
Prosumer: I learned over a number of years to deal with myself much more. I avoid the big mistakes of exhausting myself too much emotionally, I learned to stop pushing away dark feelings until they overwhelm me – I learned to allow them to be there in regular doses and allow myself to feel the way I feel, and that makes it much easier to get out of that deep valley and see the light at the end of the tunnel. That imagery probably sounds quite dramatic but that’s really how it can feel sometimes.
I wanted to ask both of you what kind of changes you think should be initiated in the nightlife business to help people to be more open with their problems?
Laura: More people like Achim (Prosumer) coming forward and talking about mental health would maybe encourage others to do the same. Talking about DJs that glamourise that excessive lifestyle, Achim is a good example of someone who has highlighted an important issue. I think just having a conversation about this subject is a good start. Being more open about it will help.
Prosumer: People should realise they have a responsibility to one another and that maybe trying to outdo each other by how long they stayed out at the weekend or how much of whatever substance they did… that this is not necessarily a way to bring them a lot of happiness during the week. I think people can sometimes treat nightlife like it’s some kind of sport; the bigger or the longer, the better… When I started going out there was more education about drugs going on, in Germany there were all these foundations that would have a presence at big events and would inform people on how to be safe, people would take care of each other more. If someone was passed out in a corner, people would check if they were alright – I have the feeling this doesn’t happen as much anymore so I’d like to see people be more responsible and more supportive of each other.
It can be the same on both sides; DJs competing with each other and clubgoers also pushing their limits…
Prosumer: I just remembered, I was once refused at the door of Berghain. The bouncer said, ‘Tonight is not your night’. I was furious, but when I got home I realised he was right. It’s good to have people in that position who realise when someone should be sent away to reconsider whether it’s a good idea to be out. I know I would have ended up feeling worse than I had before.
Having friends and loved ones who can support you is also really important. I’m still going out a lot at the moment, but abstaining from alcohol and my friends are right behind me. It’s nice also to have some self-discipline, it’s quite gratifying..
Prosumer: I personally don’t have a lot of moments where I feel like a grown up, but sometimes you have these moments where you feel quite proud of yourself and you’re like, ‘Oh yeah, I’ve made quite a grown up decision’!
The thing is, as I’ve found, this world can be quite daunting because there are a lot of flamboyant and seemingly confident characters and, if you have low self-esteem, it can make you beat yourself up even more.
Prosumer: I fully understand. The main reason I became a DJ was because it gave me a purpose to be in the club. I felt so bad about myself and had so little self-esteem that I felt I didn’t have the right to be there. A lot of my colleagues have the same thing; they became DJs so they would be allowed [by themselves] to be involved.
Laura, what’s your long-term plan with the charity? I guess you’d like to expand it beyond Scotland’s borders?
Laura: Yes, we really would. We’re still dealing with the charity board to get registered. There are four of us involved with the JNF and, when we first started a few months ago, we were very enthusiastic and we stated we wanted to reduce suicides by 50% and they came back to us and said, ‘Maybe you’ll have to go back on that. You’re not going to be able to deal with the whole of Scotland and reach that target…’ When you’re starting out you need to aim for smaller goals, so we’re focused on Edinburgh for now. As times goes on we’ll build on that. The intention is to fund people who need help and to educate people. I’d like to offer families help with dealing with loss, suicides… post-traumatic stress. Dealing with these things is absolutely horrendous and to not have anybody who can help, via your GP, I think is outrageous. I didn’t have any help for the first four months after Josh passed.
I’d been paying for Josh to get help and the waiting list is supposed to be nine to 12 months, but it can be up to 18 months. I’ve been lobbying the Scottish parliament regarding the NHS. People are being left to suffer, they need treatment of some sort. For instance, Josh shouldn’t have been shoved on anti-depressants. The doctors knew he was drinking, he was at an age where he was influenced by people, I feel as though there wasn’t enough support there for me and certainly not for him. It was four months after Josh passed, and I still hadn’t seen someone, his counsellor recommended a therapist and so I’ve been paying and that’s why I set up the JNF, so people like Josh and myself aren’t left to suffer in such an awful way. My therapist has 30 years experience and has been helping me to cope with the fallout after Josh’s death, this should be available to people without having to pay £50 an hour.
Hopefully a lot of people in our business, both partygoers and those behind the scenes, will be reading this. What would your advice be to someone who is feeling low or anxious and wants to get help?
Prosumer: I want everybody to know that they are not alone. The most devastating thing is to feel isolated and that ‘nobody else understands’ or that ‘everyone else is happy, why can’t I be?’ – that is not the case and you need to realise that. I can only urge people to reach out to the ones close to them and let them know what’s going on. I would encourage people to not pretend to be somebody who they are not and to allow themselves to feel everything which is part of them and not push it away. Look for help because I had really really horrible times and now I’m really happy that I learned how to deal with life. It’s a rocky road and it takes a while but it’s possible.
Laura: I’d like people to understand mental health and that we all suffer from issues in varying degress, from anxiety to low moods. It’s ok to feel like that and don’t give up hope – you can always find someone who can help you. I don’t know if I could have coped if I’d never have found this woman who helps me; just to know that there are people who can help you explain your feelings and reassure you that you’re not going out of your mind, that you’ll be ok, is really important. Try to take yourself away, maybe – the party scene isn’t always the answer because it can come back ten-fold.
If you’re suffering from depression, anxiety or any other such mental health related issues, don’t be afraid to reach out for help and remember that you are not alone.
For more information on Laura Nolan’s charity, visit their WEBSITE HERE.