Athens Music Organizations Create Spaces to Improve Mental Health

Stephen Cramer is the founder of Brain Aid, a non-profit organization that hosts an annual festival promoting openness and awareness to mental health and invites local advocates and bands to reach out to those affected by mental health issues. Founded in 2017, Brain Aid is built on the same idea of Live Aid, a benefit concert to end famine in Ethiopia in 1985.

According to this study by O2, a mobile network operating company that worked with Patrick Fagan, an expert in behavioral science,  attending a concert every two weeks can extend life expectancy by nine years. Cramer feels strongly that live music can increase your well-being “because you’re not isolated, you’re surrounded by people, you’re consuming arts, and it’s good for your mind and soul,” so for Brain Aid, having these concerts will always be an essential part of their mission to tackle mental health.

 Why It’s Newsworthy: Brain Aid and Nuçi’s Space are two foundations based in Athens, Ga., working to bring awareness to mental health through the influence of music. 


Cramer is transparent in his own battles dealing with mental illness and depression, both with his experiences and his mother’s.

“Everyone loves someone with a mental illness. You don’t have to have a mental illness to have it in your life,” he says.

With Brain Aid, Cramer hopes to educate everyone about mental health and end the stigma that surrounds it. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US and from 1999 to 2016, Georgia’s suicide rates increased by 16.2 percent.

“Imagine the heaviest thing you’ve ever tried to lift, and then imagine swimming in the ocean with that on your back” Cramer says, trying to put the weight of mental illness into words. For those who can relate to these experiences, he encourages everyone to “try and lighten the load and remind people if they practice – trying every day and getting out of bed every day, positive steps will be taken, as long as you’re taking those steps.”

Linda Phillips is the founder of Nuçi’s Space at 369 Oconee St. in Athens, Ga., a destination for musicians to practice in a safe, affordable space and access resources for those who suffer from mental health issues. Phillips’ son, Nuçi, struggled with severe depression and took his own life in 1999, leading to the creation of the Nuçi Phillips Memorial Foundation.

“This means a lot to me. He suffered from major depression and fought a long time but finally, we think he just got tired and he didn’t think he was ever going to get well so in his, kind of, distorted thinking from the depression, he felt like the only thing he could do to stop the pain was to kill himself, and that’s what he did. He was an excellent student and a really good musician in Athens, and that’s how Nuçi’s Space came about. We wanted to do something to remember him and wanted to create something that would be personal to him and something to be hands on for us.”

In Phillips’ experience dealing closely with mental health and depression, she shares that it was difficult to determine whether her son’s withdrawal was normal teenage angst, or if it was a symptom of depression. Phillips shares that Nuçi had made a serious suicide attempt in 1991, but they had ultimately lost him to his battle eight years later. This study finds that the risk of suicide after an attempt is 1.6 percent within the same year, and 3.9 percent after five years.

Both of these foundations are built on promoting mental health awareness with music as their platform, as they share their personal experiences dealing with depression. Music allows Brain Aid and Nuçi’s Space to take their tragedies and put them in a positive light to change the conversation around the stigma that follows mental health issues.

Hailey Ahn is a senior majoring in journalism in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia. 



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