Austin Music Non-profits: SIMS Foundation, mental health services for musicians

sims-foundation-members-heather-centerIn Center: Heather Alden Managing Director SIMS Foundation

By Bailey Cool

OVRLD will periodically be writing profiles on local nonprofits dedicated to helping musicians and enhancing the music scene in general. Thus far, its been really exciting to get different perspectives on the music community through these various organizations; it seems that each one is filling a different void to help take care of our music-makers. Last month’s Black Fret offers financial help to musicians through memberships.

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Heather Alden, the Managing Director of the SIMS Foundation, to discuss the finer points of what this organization can offer musicians in Austin and to hear about some of the upcoming events to benefit the mental health community. They have a benefit this Saturday, with a stellar lineup. Read on for more info.

Background/history of Sims Foundation:

Sims Ellison (1967-1995), was a prodigious songwriter and member of the band Pariah, one of Austin’s most popular hard-rock bands in the early 90s. Sims played the bass and was known for wearing funky hats and lederhosen while performing and was generally loved by the Austin public for his outgoing personality. The Austin music community was devastated when Sims lost his battle with depression. Born out of tragedy to help thousands, The SIMS Foundation was founded by Sims’ grieving father Don Ellison, Austin Rehearsal Complex (ARC) co-owners Don Harvey & Wayne Nagel, recording artist Alejandro Escovedo and attorney Walter Taylor. Together, they galvanized Austin’s close-knit music community to create a unique organization offering mental health services to local musicians. (Read more here.)

OVRLD: Can you highlight what the SIMS Foundation does and what your mission is?

Heather: The SIMS Foundation has been around for 19 years, so we’re not newcomers to this service, but we are growing as the city and the number of musicians grow in Austin. Our focus, or mission, is to provide mental health and substance abuse services to Austin musicians and their families through a confidential help line and access to licensed therapists for both immediate and long term care.

OVRLD: How do individuals find out about your services?

Heather: Usually word of mouth, from peers in the music community recommending he/she call us. It’s so scary for someone to make that first call and Austin musicians often struggle financially and cannot afford mental health services when they need them most. So much of the traffic we get is through people in our client’s own personal network urging them to take that plunge and reach out.

OVRLD: Is there anything that incentivizes musicians to use SIMS, rather than calling mental health professionals on their own?

Heather: A call to SIMS guarantees that a licensed clinician will answer the phone and help determine the best course of action for the musician on the other end of the line. We can provide immediate short-term counseling over the phone and match the musician to one of 70 counselors, therapists or psychiatrists in our network of providers. Our providers have experience working with musicians and understand the unique stresses that affect musicians. In many cases, we can get musicians appointments within a week of the first call to SIMS, which may not be possible for a musician to do on their own.

OVRLD: The SIMS Foundation deals with, potentially, the most critical and dire circumstances of the music-focused nonprofits in town. How do you stay motivated and positive? What makes you always see the value in what you do?

Heather: Well, the way I see it…music is the cultural currency of Austin. Musicians have created that. We need to pay them back for supporting that growth in our economy and cultural capital. We expect them to produce music for us instantly but then are surprised and scandalized when they have addictions. (They work in bars! They are overworked, likely holding a day job and a full-time music job!). We have this misconception that a musician’s life is easy and fun all the time.

We have all used “the live music capital of the world” as the city’s tagline – but that comes at a price. Every Austinite should contribute to their support system for the wonderful service they provide for us. One of the best campaigns we do is the “I’m With the Band” movement. It’s a campaign that quite simply urges people to tip musicians they go to see and provide them financial support when they can. We expect to pay everyone else for their trade (whether it be a baker, or an author, etc), why would paying musicians be any different?

OVRLD: We are really stoked to hear about your “Heart of the City” event on February 15th! Can you tell us who will be there and about some of the special things happening that night?

Heather: We are SO excited to have an amazing lineup we have this year. It’s a soul review – with headliner Bobby Patterson, the 70’s soul legend. We have Tameca Jones, the Thursday night regular performer at the Continental Club, with a “jaw dropping” voice. Dan Dyer, another Continental Club usual, will also be playing too. Nakia and Daniel James of Leopold and his Fiction will also be there. There’s going to be a luxury raffle giving away SXSW Platinum Badges, stays at Hotel Saint Cecelia, and lots of great stuff like that. It’s going to be an amazing party and outreach opportunity for us.

It will be at the Scottish Rite Theater this Saturday, February 15th starting at 8pm. (Editor’s Note: You can find tickets and sponsorship information here.)

OVRLD: Thanks so much for telling us more about what the SIMS Foundation does for Austin musicians – you guys are helping make the Austin music scene safer and more sustainable. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Heather: Just our help line information for anyone in the Austin music industry who is suffering from substance abuse and/or needs someone to talk to about it:

Confidential Client Line: 512.494.1007.