Columbus, OH

WonderBus Music Festival brings mental health support and resources to fans

The Lantern
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WonderBus will kick off this weekend and will offer 50 percent off of tickets for college students who are vaccinated or receive an on-site vaccine. Credit: Courtesy of Liz Lane

The return of the WonderBus Music & Arts Festival will provide a chance for many to enjoy an in-person show for an important underlying cause — mental health.

The Wexner Medical Center’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health and The Shipyard, a Columbus-based marketing agency, worked with festival host CAS, a division of the American Chemical Society, to not only bring people together with music, but to spread mental health awareness. The event will take place Saturday and Sunday.

K. Luan Phan, head chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health at the Wexner Medical Center, said unlike other stressors, stress brought on by the pandemic can be felt worldwide and by almost everyone.

“It’s an amazing time to take stock of who we are, how we feel and how we come together,” Phan said. “As humans, we’ve always come together to overcome shared experience, shared adversities.”

Rick Milenthal, CEO of The Shipyard, said although his company isn’t staffed with mental health professionals, they are determined to use their skills for the cause.

“Words matter in mental health, and we’re in the words business — that’s what we do as a business — and so when we thought about what will we lean into from a social action standpoint, from a community standpoint, we chose mental health,” Milenthal said.

Phan said music is an excellent way to connect people and often plays a valuable role in increasing the mental health of listeners.

“The best music moves us in two different ways,” Phan said. “It either makes us feel better because the music is so resonating, or it’s upbeat and it makes us feel happy. When we gather to hear music, when we take our own individual experiences and we say to the next person right beside us, ‘You feel that too? You have the same experience I do listening to this music?’ then we join each other as a community.”

Musical artists can have a similar effect as their music when it comes to spreading awareness and reducing the stigma surrounding mental health issues, Milenthal said.

“All of the lyrics are about challenges — if you call them mental health challenges, or certainly stress challenges — that’s the language of music,” Milenthal said. “All of it is to touch us and mostly to tell us we’re not alone. I think most musicians are talking about mental health all the time. It doesn’t matter if they say something specific on stage, or they just touch us through their music this weekend.”

Phan said isolation brought on by the pandemic has caused many people to struggle to maintain their mental health.

“During the pandemic, because of the need and the mandate to socially isolate, we as a society lost many of the buffers that we usually turn to to relieve stress and feel better, and so much of those buffers involve gathering and being with people,” Phan said.

The Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health, along with The Shipyard, worked together to create a music-themed acronym for the festival: “LALALA.” The letters stand for “listen, ask, love, act, link and advocate” –– a reference on how to help someone who may be struggling with their mental health.

Phan said there are some tell-tale signs that a classmate might be struggling with their mental health and may need to seek support.

“When the person is not performing well, not going into classes, not doing homework, at risk of struggling in their classes, withdrawing from friends, not going out like they should, not engaging in conversation, or activities, I think, for a student, those are really key, fundamental triggers,” he said.

The Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health will also have a booth set up at the festival, with volunteers available to answer questions and offer support and resources for mental health at Ohio State, Phan said. Some of the proceeds from the festival will also be donated to the department.

The festival will promote physical health in addition to mental health and will actively advocate for safety against COVID-19. Festivalgoers must be vaccinated, have a negative test result or wear a mask throughout the entire duration of the festival, according to a WonderBus press release.

On-site Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines will be offered to college students through O’Reilly Family Pharmacy in Worthington, as well as $15 COVID-19 testing through CAS and Mobile Med of Central Ohio. Those who show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test will not have to wear masks inside the festival. College students who are vaccinated or choose to be vaccinated on-site will also receive a 50 percent discount on single-day tickets.

Phan said he believes getting vaccinated is the best protection against spreading the virus and said those who put together WonderBus showed clear prioritization of the health of their patrons.

“Based on your individual differences, you have to follow the safety protocol, and we have to be really careful about each other’s health,” Phan said. “The people who put on this festival, just like the people who put on Lollapalooza, have gone through great lengths to improve the safety of the concertgoers.”

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