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mental illness + punk music: meet the woman who is breaking the stigma

by violet foulk

"Therapy is punk rock, and so is Sheridan Allen."

Therapy is punk rock, and so is Sheridan Allen. I recently had the chance to chat with the social worker, mental health advocate, and founder of nonprofit organization Punk Talks about why you don’t need to be sad to make great music.

With a deep passion for music and helping people, Sheridan was just about to graduate college and felt the dire need to do something. She started Punk Talks, touring the country and convincing people to open up to the importance of mental health.

Fast forward three years - the Punk Talks team has grown to twelve volunteers and six licensed therapists, and the organization has been supported by bands like Turnover, Free Throw, Sorority Noise, and Modern Baseball, one of the first inspirations for the project.

“I had always been interested in working in music, but never really found a way to be involved. I just didn’t really know how to,” Sheridan confessed. “This was at the height of Modern Baseball’s career where they were college students just like me, but they were like, touring Australia on spring break, and here I was, really stressed out when college was the only thing I did. I thought, ‘They must be really stressed all the time. Wouldn’t it be cool if there was some type of mental health service just for bands?’ So I looked into it and nothing like that really existed on a smaller accessible level, so I decided to give it a shot.”

It’s truly inspiring how far Punk Talks has come in just three years since then. “It started out kind of like a blog, just me screaming into the void of the internet that you don’t need to be miserable to be creative, and people were really drawn to that. That’s where our slogan, ‘You don’t have to be sad to make great music,’ comes from,” Sheridan explained. “I literally don’t understand the idea that you can’t create something of value if you’re not miserable. That’s such a disruptive idea.”

“I literally don’t understand the idea that you can’t create something of value if you’re not miserable. That’s such a disruptive idea.”

Punk Talks’ main service is connecting musicians and music industry workers with licensed therapists, but it wasn’t always that way. “That first year, I was touring a lot just getting the word out, helping people understand who we are and what we’re trying to do. I spent a lot of time just getting people to open up to the idea of going to therapy. But now we’re really providing the services. The ball is definitely rolling now, and people are starting to see that therapy is the way,” she said proudly. “We should all have a therapist. I wholeheartedly believe that.”

Although Sheridan has been successful in her mission, it hasn’t always been easy. Working a full time job as a social worker pays the bills and keeps her busy, and she still manages to make the time to keep Punk Talks running, and thriving.

“We really have been able to make a change in music, and we’ve been able to see that people are approaching mental health differently. Of course we’re not solely responsible for that, but I do think that we’ve made an impact and that’s incredible. Every moment of it is amazing,” she gushed.

Not everyone’s passion is driven by helping others. Not everyone wakes up each morning with the sole purpose of working to better individuals. But the music industry is lucky that these few people exist, like Sheridan and her team at Punk Talks. And not only is the work they do necessary, it’s rewarding. “My heart is so full. I really feel like I live my dream every day. Being able to make a positive impact in the lives of individuals that have shaped me personally and I know shape other people through their art has been phenomenal.”

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Catch Punk Talks at their unofficial SXSW showcase on March 14th. They will also be at their third annual show with the Bergen County STIGMA-FREE Campaign in Hackensack, NJ this May, and at BLED FEST.

Follow Punk Talks: Website | Instagram | Twitter

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