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Transcript – Supporting Mental Health Through Music With Brandon Staglin

Follow along with the transcript below for episode: Supporting Mental Health Through Music With Brandon Staglin




[00:00:04] PF: What’s up, everybody? This is Paula Felps, and you are listening to On a Positive Note.


We’ve talked about how music can boost our mood and even help our bodies heal. Today, we’re looking at what it can do for our mental health. For this episode, I’m talking with Brandon Staglin, co-founder and president of One Mind, a mental health nonprofit organization committed to improving brain health by supporting research and providing resources. Central to their mission is music, which Brandon explains has been an incredible healing tool in his own struggle with mental illness. He’s here to talk about the One Mind music festival for brain health, and how that has helped build awareness for their mental health mission, and how he uses it for healing and connection in his own life. Let’s have a listen.




[0:00:51] PF: Brandon, thank you for joining me on On a Positive Note.


[0:00:54] BS: Thank you, Paula. So much happy to be On a Positive Note, and it’s a great day to talk about music and mental health.


[0:01:00] PF: And you’re a fantastic person to talk to about this subject. I’ve been following One Mind for a while. The work that you do is absolutely amazing. For those who haven’t been following you, let’s start by talking about what one mind is and what it does.


[0:01:15] BS: One Mind is an organization that started 30 years ago, and it was founded by my family. My family founded One Mind, thanks to our shared experience with my schizophrenia diagnosis and recovery. I was diagnosed when I was 18 years old, back in 1990. It was an incredibly scary and dark time in my life, and in that of my whole family. There was a stretch of about a year when we didn’t really know whether there would be any positive future for me at all. I was terrified that at any moment, I might go straight to hell, like I had this delusion in my mind that demons were after my soul, and that if I made any slight moral mistake, they pounce on me, and drive me off to hell for all eternity.


It’s just a terrifying thing to think every moment of every day, if you can imagine that. That drove me to exhaustion, and despair. Even though I was getting treatment for my mental illness, it wasn’t working very well for the first six months. There were moments when I was so depressed that I felt suicidal, and moments where I seriously considering ending my life. Fortunately, I’m very grateful to be alive today. What saw me through those really dark times were three main factors in the beginning. One of them was the unconditional love of my family. They made sure I knew how deeply they loved me by telling me so in ways that reached me.


There was a moment when I was shuffling around the house, just so dark, just so down, and depressed. My dad saw me there in the kitchen. He said, “There’s a lot of love coming from here, Brandon.” Even though I had not, I couldn’t feel the love back at that moment. I wanted to feel that love again. That drove me to want to recover again, to be able to feel that love again for my family back with them again. That was a major factor in driving me to continue to work for getting well again.


Then, other factors included a sense of purpose through staying involved with community activities, and volunteering, and education while I was recovering. As well as, early science-based medical care. From those experiences, I’ve learned principles that love is an important factor for life. That curiosity is also an important driver of motivation for people, and can lead to discoveries that can help people out there in the community. And that having a sense of purpose is essential to drive people forward toward recovery and toward a good life.


Based on all we’ve learned through my experience in schizophrenia, my parents decided to found One Mind in 1995. They started out with the realization, learning from me, and from other families around us who had experienced similar challenges with our young ones. That the science was not up to par in terms of its ability to enable people to access treatments that were helpful for them in a way that would help them to get all the way to recovery.


I was taking medications at the time that were somewhat helpful. But as I mentioned, they had not the full effect that I wanted, had terrible side effects. My parents realized, and now it’s an important part of One Mind that precision medicine be a part of mental health care. Meaning that, science must develop ways to develop treatments that can help people right from their diagnosis, right in the very beginning of their illness. And not have to go through months and years of trial and error, and agony for finding something that could help them recover again. That was how we started One Mind. The very first event we had ever in 1995 called the Music Festival for Brain Health, and that’s how music comes into play here in the conversation.


[0:05:00] PF: I’m really curious to know why they built it around music, because you and I know now that that’s such a natural tool for healing and for bringing people together. Wat was their thinking behind using music as the central focus of that event?


[0:05:15] BS: The music festival was launched in 1995, with the intent that music could bring people together, as you say, in a way that transcends inhibitions, that transcends fears, and then brings people to have a deeper pour for each other, and love for each other in the moment, celebrating together. We call the music festival a celebration of life. Ever since the beginning, it’s been like that. I remember in 2001, when September 11th happened in the United States. There was a lot of trepidation about whether we could put on the music festival. It was just days after that took place. But we did, we were able to get conductor to come, and orchestra to come.


They played Ode to Joy during the music concert of that event, people were in tears. The conductor was just so overwhelmed by the response that he just – we have a photograph that he gave my mom this enthusiastic hug, and just the embrace was just great to see. But that’s an example of how music can bring people together, and transcend fears, and overcome barriers to connection. Then, we make that a hallmark at the festival today. Basically, I make sure that everyone understands when they come to the festival, that it’s a safe place to open up to each other about the challenges that they’re facing with their mental health, and their families, and open place to talk about and share those experiences with each other.


[0:06:45] PF: What else goes on? You have a concert, but you have events leading up to the concert as well throughout the day. Can you talk about the other things that happen before the music?


[0:06:54] BS: Absolutely. It’s a really special event, the music festival for brain health. It starts today with a science and innovation symposium, where we have the scientists who we fund, and support give talks about the amazing discoveries they’re making. Every year, they come out with something new that blows me away, and really thrills the audience to know that these nutrients are coming down the line to help them and their families. We added on a component in the last year, in 2023 of innovation as well. We have a program called the One Line Rising Star Awards, which enables young, promising mental health scientists to make these discoveries toward better treatments, by giving them funding, and by giving them leadership training, so that they can grow their careers as influencers for better mental health research. And improve the field in ways that reflect the interests of people like me, like people, so many people out community who live with mental illness, and work to improve their lives.


The other program that we offer through a science and innovation division at One Mind is called The One Mind Accelerator. Through this program, we help entrepreneurs who are taking some of the discoveries, like those our scientists have made, and turning them into products, and services, that can then be commercialized and scale to reach people all throughout our society. This is a kind of an outgrowth, our focus on science toward innovation. So, it’s been a very successful 30 years of doing these programs now together. We’ve made some great breakthroughs, including ways to treat mental illness with electricity that are safe and actually remedy the symptoms using brain stimulation, including microbiome-based treatments for mental illness. Like what happens in your gut, the bacteria in your gut to treat depression, for example, and including peer support models for young people facing suicidality. Happy to expand more if you’re interested later on.


The gist of it is that, the scientists and innovators speak during the symposium of the music festival. That gives the audience so much hope to know that these innovations are coming down the line to help them and their families.


[0:09:13] PF: Who’s likely to attend the festival?


[0:09:15] BS: Well, because the festival includes not only the science innovation symposium, but also, the most amazing wine tasting anywhere.


[0:09:24] PF: Yes, you got three different – I feel like you have three different audiences for this.


[0:09:28] BS: Yes. The festival goes like this. It includes the science innovation symposium, the wine tasting reception, following symposium. Then, there’s the concert, which is kind of the highlight of the day. Then, there’s the exclusive dinner up at my parent’s home, at the top of our vineyard property in Napa Valley, which is where it takes place. That combination of events is something that really revs people up to be excited about the future for mental health and their families. Because it’s a fundraiser, it helps them want to donate to support cause. Those are the four parts of the event.


The kind of people coming would mainly include people with lived experience in their families of mental illness. So, families that have got young people, or brothers, or sisters who live with schizophrenia, who live with bipolar disorder, who live with major depression, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder. We aim to help them have that sense of community at the festival, so they have that common bond, and reveling each other’s company as well as in the events taking place.


[0:10:35] PF: Let’s talk about the music component of it and how that’s really grown. When you first started, what kind of artists were you bringing in? Because you’ve got some – you have some very impressive lineups in the last few years. Talk about, when it first started, what was that like?


[0:10:48] BS: Yes. We started out with orchestras playing, and we had celebrity conductors, conducting the orchestras. First year, we had Richard Williams, and another year, we had Ben Zander of the Boston Philharmonic, very charismatic conductor, who wrote a book called, The Art of Possibility. He’s the one who conducted during the post September 11th festival that we had. Then, we evolved into jazz. We had Ramsay Lewis and his trio play. Then, we evolved into pop, and country, and R&B. Had artists like Gladys Knight, Brian Wilson performed, who was amazing. He totally brought it, he did it for no cost for us, because he believed in what we’re doing. Then, we found artists like Jennifer Hudson, we had Tim McGraw, Sheryl Crow, and Lyle Lovett, and Jewel more recently. There’s some really great stories about these artists and how they’ve been part of the festival.


[0:11:42] PF: I know Jewel. I saw a lot of posts and things that she said about this, wrote about this. I would love to hear their experiences, because it’s touching to me that there are so many artists are being so open about mental health, and how music has helped them.


[0:11:57] BS: Yes. It’s great to know that artists are being open about that, because it lets people know it’s safe for them to talk about it too. These are role models for so many people, or at least people that feel close to through the music that they produce, and that they hear. So, yes, Jewel is actually a One Mind champion. She’s an official ambassador for One Mind. We’ve worked with her for a few years now. She performed in 2022, as well as in 2014, so twice for us over the years.


[0:12:24] PF: Wow.


[0:12:24] BS: Yes. Had her back. She’s just so great. She’s been very open about her experiences, mental illness, and that’s inspired a lot of people to know that recovery is possible for them to other artists who stood out, include Lyle Lovett, who lent me his guitar to play a song that I wrote about recovery from schizophrenia. That’s a cause that is very dear to my heart to help people recovery is possible even from serious mental illness. There’s still amazing things you can do left in life after recovery, during recovery. That song is called Horizons Left to Chase, and it’s available on YouTube.


When he lent me his guitar, like he was handing it to me like it’s a baby or something. It was very gently, and making sure that I held it carefully. And I had it, and I say, “Okay. Well, here we go.” I played it, and played my song. He listened very intently to the song like he was very interested. But people loved hearing the song too, which really gratified me.


[0:13:19] PF: You have artists who perform who have talked openly about their struggles with mental health. Then, you have others who are just supportive of the mission. Is that correct?


[0:13:28] BS: Yes. Yes, that’s right. When Jennifer Hudson performed, she spoke a lot about her family’s experiences with mental health. When Tim McGraw performed, he also supports brain injury, causes, and One Mind was involved in Brain Injury Research at that time. He was deeply involved in that. So many of the artists that I featured on brainwaves, that webcasts that I hosted for about 11 years were very open about their experiences with mental health, and mental illness. Artists deal with a lot of challenges with their mental health, and music is a way to kind of process those. I’ve personally discovered those experiences with music.


[0:14:04] PF: That’s what I’d really like to talk about, is how does music help people who are struggling with mental health. And if you have your own experiences that you can give us examples, that’d be fantastic.


[0:14:14] BS: Yes, I’d love to do that. When I was about 35, it was about 17 years after I was initially diagnosed. I was into my recovery, but not fully well yet. I wasn’t very socially adept, and so I didn’t have a lot of friends or social connections that I could turn to for support, or just have fun with. So, I realized that if I learned to play guitar, I’d have a hobby that would be something that connect me to other people, as well as be something that I could really enjoy on my own. I took up guitar lessons that year, that was about quite a while ago, almost 20 years ago. I began to practice, and I found that playing guitar offers me amazing benefits. Not only is it a lot of fun, but it also helps me to focus, and to understand that I can feel real emotions.


When people live with schizophrenia, we take medication so often, dampen our emotions due to the dopamine effects in the brain. The illness can have that effect to for people. Feeling the genuine emotions that the music brings out in me, is something that reconnects me to more parts of myself and makes me feel more whole as a human being, and a more spiritually full. Then, also the mastery aspect, like getting better at a practice is something that I love to engage in. It gives me a sense of humility to see how I’m not that adept yet at playing guitar, but I want to be better. So, it’s a driving force for motivation in my life.


[0:15:52] PF: Then, physically, it has so many great benefits too, because when you’re playing and you sync with a rhythm, and you start, it has so many different physiological effects that you can benefit from as well.


[0:16:05] BS: Yes. Just hearing the strings ring out when I’m tuning the guitar, focuses my mind, my attention, and it calms me down. I’m reading a book now called Your Brain on Art by Susan Magsamen and Ivy Ross. It was published last year, it’s a New York Times bestseller, and it features my story in it, and how I’ve used music for my recovery. Susan Magsamen, who’s the head of the International Arts and Minds Labs at Johns Hopkins University interviewed me year before and put my story in the book. But she talks about how music does affect the brain in the body, and how it can lower cortisol release, which is a stress hormone. It can put your body into a parasympathetic nervous system framework, so that you calm down and it aids your sleep. I experienced that too. I sleep so much better if I play guitar recently. It also brings in together so many different aspects of brain activity in sync with each other. That can kind of account for the experience I have of feeling more like a whole person after I play music, I think.


[0:17:10] PF: Now, what about if you’re just listening to music. Because I am a big proponent of playlists. I have a playlist for every mood, everything that can possibly happen in my life, I’ve got a playlist. I go to a playlist for it. How about that? Do you use recorded music as a way to manage emotions and regulate yourself?


[0:17:28] BS: Yes, I do. I do. I really do. Like every morning when I’m driving to work or driving home from work, I put out some music to start the day well with things that are meaningful to me. Like songs that I really love, and bring me a sense of peace or inspiration. Many years ago, when I was first ill with schizophrenia, it was immensely beneficial to listen to my favorite songs that helped me to refocus on the moment and stopped associating into the psychosis that would be creeping up on me from time to time. Listening to music has been really something part of my life for like my entire life. It’s a touchstone for me that helps me to cope and feel good.


[0:18:08] PF: What are some of the things that musicians that you’ve talked with that perform at your festival? What are some of the ways that they say that it’s helped their mental health?


[0:18:17] BS: The musicians who perform the festivals, I haven’t talked to them directly about how music benefits mental health, except for Jewel. She and I, during the dinner portion of the Music Festival event, in 2022, sat together at the dinner. So, I had a long conversation with her. For her, music has been a double-edged sword, it helps her to work through the challenges and experiences in her life, by articulating them, and kind of processing them through that lens of seeing them out there as a creation. But the thing that has come with her music is something that she wants to not have too much of, because fame can change people’s perceptions of themselves, of the world around them, of reality. It can also impact your private life in so many ways.


She has changed her genres many times throughout her career, and I really respect that she does this as a means to [inaudible 0:19:13] to be creative and create the kind of music that she wants to, and that’s innovative for her, and brings her a sense of fulfillment, but keeps her fans guessing and on their toes at the same time. I have followed her throughout her career ever since the early 2000s, and all of her albums, even though she’s been very multifaceted and eclectic in the genres that she’s used.


[0:19:33] PF: Yes. I had read an interview with her, where she said that she had intentionally stepped away right after she hit big, and she knew that this could be – it would be phenomenal for her career, but it can be very damaging for her mental health. So, she took a step back. I thought that was so wise and insightful for her to recognize what that could do to her. An artist, you’re there to get famous, you’re there to have a living you, and to have that right in front of you, and to be able to say, “But my mental health is more important,” it’s just absolutely incredible.


[0:20:05] BS: Yes. It’s incredibly wise to do it, like you say, and she has a song called Goodbye Alice in Wonderland on her album of the same name. She talks about in the song, in the lyrics that there’s a difference between dreaming and pretending. She’s found in her life through the fame that she’s found that she doesn’t want to pretend anymore. She wants to live a genuine life, and that’s why she’s leaving Wonderland, so to speak in the song.


[0:20:32] PF: That’s fantastic. There’s so much good that comes out of music. One mind is doing so much good to help bridge music and mental health. For the people who are listening to this, if they have a family member who has recently been diagnosed, and things are becoming clearer, or if they have been living with this for a while, what is the thing that you want them to know about the journey that they’re on?


[0:20:57] BS: Yes. They should know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, that recovery is possible, even from the most serious of mental illnesses. That if you love somebody who’s living with mental illness, you should also know that they’re still them, even though they may not seem like them. Medication can change people’s personalities, so can the illness. But deep inside, they’re still who they who you’ve always known. And they can live a full and meaningful life again, if you continue to love and support them and access treatment that can help them.


[0:21:29] PF: That’s terrific, Brandon, we’re going to tell everybody where they can find out more about the One Mind Music Festival.


[0:21:35] BS: It’s the One Mind Music Festival for Brain Health. This year, it’s our 30th anniversary event. It’s on September 7th 2024. We invite people to check out our website at music-festival.org to learn more about that wonderful event.


[0:21:49] PF: All right, that is terrific. I appreciate you sitting down and talking with me today. It’s been a pleasure to talk to you. Like I said, I’ve been following you for a while. It really is an honor to be able to chat with you about it.


[0:21:59] BS: Thanks, Paula. It’s great to talk to you too. I love your podcast and it’s been great to be on. Thank you.



[0:22:07] PF: That was Brandon Staglin of One Mind, talking about music and mental health. If you’d like to learn more about One Mind, or the one Mind Music Festival for Brain Health, explore some of their resources, or follow them on social media, just visit livehappy.com and click on the podcast tab.


I hope you’ve enjoyed this episode of On a Positive Note and look forward to joining you again next time. Until then, this is Paula Felps, reminding you to make every day a happy one.



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