Punk Talks uniquely connects mental health resources to musicians and music fans

Founded here in 2015 by Sheridan Allen, Punk Talks works to destigmatize seeking therapy by raising awareness and education.

Sheridan Allen, founder of mental-health-advocacy organization Punk Talks. - Photo: Hailey Lamb
Photo: Hailey Lamb
Sheridan Allen, founder of mental-health-advocacy organization Punk Talks.

Punk Talks, a mental health organization that aims to provide free, professional therapy and services to touring musicians, music fans and music industry workers, was born of a quarter-life crisis. 

One day, in her last semester of college studying social work at Northern Kentucky University, Sheridan Allen was blow-drying her hair when she started thinking about how, though people in the Punk, Emo and DIY scenes were talking about their mental illness, there was little discussion about actual therapy or treatment. In that moment, Allen decided she would try to change that, ultimately founding Punk Talks in the Cincinnati area in January 2015.

Through being open about her personal dealings with mental health, Allen hopes to be “living proof that you can be mentally ill and super cool.” It wasn’t until Allen received a diagnosis for borderline personality disorder and sought therapy that she was able to manage her mental illness. 

Punk Talks works to destigmatize seeking therapy by raising awareness and education. Allen and assistant director Hailey Lamb are joined in Punk Talks by a team of volunteers that includes licensed clinical social workers in various parts of the country who donate their time as therapists, as well as those who help with outreach and social media. 

Allen takes Punk Talks straight to those it would benefit by touring with bands and setting up tables with info at shows, while also talking to musicians and others. Allen met Lamb at Bled Fest, a music festival in Michigan (where Lamb lived) that had Punk Talks sponsor a stage and set up a table. Lamb became a volunteer after the encounter, and benefited from Punk Talks herself after joining the team.

“Sheridan, both as Punk Talks and a close friend of mine, did my own therapy referral and it helped me unbelievably,” Lamb says. “I don’t know how I would have finished my last two years of college if I had not been referred.”

When Lamb decided to move to Philadelphia, Allen took the opportunity to join her, becoming her roommate. Punk Talks became Philly based in July.  

“The goal to moving to Philly is to be more accessible to a community that needs us,” Allen says. “We’re planning to be more active. Now, no one lives in Northern Kentucky. A lot of bands tour through, but there’s only so much I can do when they’re (in town) for one evening. I get maybe 30 minutes with them, if that. (The move) will give me an opportunity to have a home base that’s accessible to a lot more musicians.”

Sitting on her front stoop in Philadelphia, Lamb can see potential in their new bustling new neighborhood. When she looks one way, the block is sprinkled with smaller bar venues. Peering the opposite direction gives a view of the larger Theatre of Living Arts concert venue.

“Being so close to larger communities than there are in Michigan and the Ohio/Northern Kentucky border where Sheridan is from is going to drastically improve the amount of people we’re going to be able to help,” Lamb says. 

The roommates look toward growth for the organization that Allen started with no contacts in the music industry. Since then, Punk Talks has worked with and received support (including through benefit shows and compilation albums) from many acts, including Pinegrove, Julien Baker, Tigers Jaw, La Dispute and Motion City Soundtrack. Currently, the group is looking into partnering with labels and venues directly to provide access to mental health resources. 

Within a culture that sometimes romanticizes negative emotions and depressed mental states exists an idea that being sad is a prerequisite to writing good music, according to Allen. She and Lamb agree getting musicians to dismiss such thinking would be huge for them and their community.

“Being able to do something with that — taking that sadness or that discomfort — and improve both as people and as musicians and recovering and being able to live more active and healthy lives is something that is really needed in this community,” Lamb says. 

At 26, Allen jokes that she’s basically a grandparent in the Punk community. But she believes those older in the scene can be crucial to illustrating to the youth the benefits of not having their artistry bogged down by sadness.

“We as older people with a platform explain to them, ‘Don’t buy this shit that you have to be sad to be successful, don’t buy into that, because in order to be successful you have to be stable,’ ” Allen says. “If you are miserable, guess what you’re going to want to do? Nothing.”

Punk Talks’ slogan is “You don’t have to be sad to make great music.” Allen says she wants to connect that message to every band possible. 

Last year while touring with Sorority Noise in Richmond, Va., Allen made the kind of connection that encompasses the immediate impact Punk Talks can make. Allen was moving through the crowd and handing out purple affirmation cards, as she always does during shows. Each card contained uplifting phrases like “I think you’re important” or “I’m glad you exist.” Along with the phrases is a blurb about the organization. Moving through the bar, she tried to hand one to everyone she saw. She reached a man named Rob, who found Allen later that night and thanked her. The next morning, he sent her an email explaining how Punk Talks helped him realize he was experiencing depression and it was starting to affect his relationships. 

“ ‘You handed me a card last night and we didn’t really talk, but you were so impactful,’ ” Allen says, recalling the email. “ ‘You helped me put an end to my suffering… I’m going to try and make it to more of these tour dates.’ ”

He ended up following the tour, which hopped between five states, before winding up in Columbus, Ohio. They’ve kept in touch since and through Punk Talk’s advocacy, Rob sought therapy. 

“This is literally my favorite thing to do. It makes me whole to really be able to positively impact people,” Allen says. “I am so, so grateful for people who listen and think what I’m doing is important and are willing to give therapy a shot. They are all so important. I truly love each person in this universe.”

For PUNK TALKS’ mental health resources and ways to get help, visit punktalks.org

Scroll to read more Music Feature articles
Join the CityBeat Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state.
Help us keep this coverage going with a one-time donation or an ongoing membership pledge.


Join CityBeat Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.