Travis County DA working to reduce substance use, increase mental health awareness

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Travis County and the City of Austin are hoping a ‘Safer Together’ campaign will resonate with musicians and others at a new concert series on the Red River Cultural District.

Through a joint partnership with Travis County District Attorney Jose Garza, an inaugural ‘Safer Together’ concert series was created to raise awareness about the increase in overdose deaths in Travis County.

On Saturday, an inaugural concert series kicked off at Mohawk, The Green Jay and the Empire Room where ten bands performed from 8 p.m. to midnight.

A 2020 report from the Travis County Medical Examiner shows that overdose related deaths spiked by more than 30% last year.

(KXAN Photo/Tim Holcomb)

It’s the reason city leaders are making such a strong push.

“I got depressed, you know as a musician, when I can’t play,” said Jon Blondell. “I was used to playing every night and all the time.”

Musicians like Jon Blondell say these feelings of anxiety and depression are common for people in the music industry. He’s spent the past 40-years playing full time in Austin, he even played next to Willie Nelson early on in his career. Blondell says the last two years were the hardest.

“Musicians don’t have a steady paycheck, not like regular people, but it’s the choice you make,” said Blondell. “But when it’s like boom, the music stops…there’s a lot of depression that comes with that. Musicians in this town could really use some help.”

The Sims Foundation is a non-profit that helps musicians who are struggling with substance use and mental health.

“It’s such a pleasure to have him [District Attorney Jose Garza] reach out and actually be interested in the subject of substance use,” said Patsy Dolan Bouressa, Sims Foundation Executive Director.

Patsy Dolan Bouressa says people are now realizing that they’re in trouble after a prolonged period of not checking their substance use following the pandemic.

(KXAN Photo/Tim Holcomb)

“We’ve seen an increase in substance use. A lot of people sat back, and I think like most of us, hoped it would be over more quickly during the pandemic,” said Bouressa.

Her hope is that more musicians reach out for help.

“There’s a lot of great things in this city that no place else has,” said Blondell.

The concert event helped raise awareness and funds for SIMS so the organization can continue to provide mental health and substance use recovery services to the music industry, and their dependent family members.

Learn more about how to donate or connect with the Sims Foundation here.

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