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Mental Health And Music Come Together Again At WonderBus


The WonderBus Music & Arts Festival takes place this weekend. The two-day event emphasizes music but also benefits and promotes mental health.  

The WonderBus Festival began in 2019 to connect people through music and also change the conversation and remove the stigma surrounding mental health. Organizers felt they successfully did that with the inaugural event. Then COVID-19 came along. The pandemic prompted the festival's cancellation last year, and it's also added more layers to the mental health conversation as WonderBus returns this weekend. Dr. K. Luan Phan serves as professor and chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health at Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center.  

"Adversities and stressors have broadened, so we have to think about all aspects of a person or patient's life when we meet them," Dr. Phan said. "It isn't just the typical things. It's compounded by the fact that people don't know how to reconnect, people don't know how to perform well at school or at work. It brings on this challenge that we have as providers to be as broad as possible and to ask as many questions about how the pandemic has affected different kinds of people. There's so many individual differences about how we're responding to the pandemic." 

While the stressors may have changed, having open and non-judgemental conversations remain important. 

"In terms of family conversations, not to shut down anyone or shut down conversations by saying you should be grateful for what you have," Dr. Phan continued. "That closes the conversation prematurely, I think. The better thing is to say how do you feel, how can we be of help,  we understand where you're coming from. These are hard times for each and every one of us. We are more divisive as a community and as a nation than I've ever seen before, so conversations about how we bring each other together and support each other are going to be critical going forward. If you can't handle the stressors, I think the next thing is to understand that there are providers out there who are here and willing to help." 

Those conversations are happening more frequently now according to Rick Milenthal, founder and CEO of Columbus-based marketing company The Shipyard, one of the festival's partners. 

*I haven't had one conversation where someone didn't tell me this affects them," Milenthal said of mental health. "We just don't always talk about it. I think we're talking about it more now. The reason the Shipyard got involved in this is because we're in the business of words, and words matter in mental health. How we communicate matters. You can inspire, or you can divide. You can build morale, or you can demoralize. My biggest message is that virtually everyone you see is dealing with a challenge in mental health whether personally or with a loved one or with a friend. So I'm telling you, don't feel alone." 

The Shipyard along with other festival partners Elevation, and CAS hope to leverage the power of live music to promote and raise funds for mental health initiatives at the medical center that are focused on recovery and resilience. 

As for the festival itself, there are COVID protocols in place. Attendees need to bring proof of a full vaccination or a negative test result for entry without a mask. Those not fully vaccinated or without a test must wear a face covering. Organizers remain confident that with the festival taking place outdoors at the more than 50-acre CAS property on three stages that the event can take place safely. 

The festival has also partnered with Worthington-based O'Reilly Pharmacy to offer free COVID-19 vaccinations at the festival each day from noon to 4 p.m. And in partnership with Mobile Med of Central Ohio, the festival will be offering on-site COVID-19 testing for $15. More details at

Meanwhile, Franklin County earlier this month launched a new website to connect residents and families with emotional, behavioral, and mental health resources and providers locally and nationally. It's

Mike Foley joined WCBE in February 2000, coming from WUFT in Gainesville, Florida. Foley has worked in various roles, from producing news and feature stories to engineering Live From Studio A sessions. A series of music features Foley started in 2018 called Music Journeys has grown into a podcast and radio show. He also assists in developing other programs in WCBE's Podcast Experience. Foley hosts The Morning Mix, a weekday music show featuring emerging and established musicians, our Columbus-area and Ohio-based talent, and additional artists that inspire him.
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