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The SIMS Foundation: Shaking the Stigma of Mental Illness and Addiction

By Jillian Gaier
Dark. Impossible. Worthless. All words Nakia Reynoso used to describe life as
he knew it just over ten years ago.
As he unknowingly battled bipolar disorder, depression and addiction, Nakia felt
trapped. He became a musician without his music, a man without his temperament, a
human being without his will to live. Nakia thought it couldnt get any worse. He was
rightit got better.
While browsing through a forum on the Internet one day, the singer-songwriter
came across the SIMS Foundation, a nonprofit that provides low-cost mental health and
addiction recovery services to Austin musicians. Over the past 19 years, SIMS has
served as a safe place for artists struggling to survive in the live music capital of the
The SIMS Foundation website explains that the organization was founded in
honor of Sims Ellison, bassist of Austin metal band Pariah, who suffered from chronic
depression. In 1995, Ellison took a shotgun to his face and pulled the trigger.
Reflecting on his own despondency, Nakia said, Getting medication and
treatment was problematic for me because I did not have enough money to pay for it.
Without access to the resources I needed, my creativity and productivity suffered.
And Nakia was just one victim of the many still hurting.

Studies conducted at Karolinska Institute in Sweden have proven that creative

thinkers are especially prone to mental illness due to the meticulous way their brains
absorb information. According to SIMS website, the organization exists to give these
individuals the specialized help they need in order to revive their artistry.
For the past year, Heather Alden has dedicated herself to this very goal. As the
SIMS Foundation managing director, she oversees the entire process, beginning when a
musician first calls the confidential client line.
During the intake process, our licensed counselors talk on the phone with
prospective clients and match them with a therapist in the community, Alden said. We
have over 70 therapists that take a reduced fee to work with SIMS clients.
Since the majority of the actual recovery process is outsourced to local therapy
services, SIMS primary function is what Alden refers to as case management. By
checking in with clients on a scheduled basis, the SIMS staff acts as the intermediary,
aiming to bolster the relationship between client and therapist.
Throughout their SIMS-authorized year of aid, some clients follow-up with Alden
and her colleagues by phone while others opt to go into the office for a more intimate
The SIMS office, adorned with an array of framed benefit posters, band albums
and concert photos, embodies the convergence of music and philanthropy. In the meeting
room, a dry-erase board lists the organizations core values in pink marker: clientcentric, quality, compassion, integrity and accessibility, among others.

Alden said that all staff members vow to uphold these values, however some
apply them differently than others.
SIMS outreach and communications specialist Rikki Hardy contributes by
managing the organizations social media presence and recruiting volunteers.
The volunteers are kind of our little warriors, she said. Theyre the ones who
help spread the word. The more people we have talking about the foundation, the more
likely somebody will hear about it that could use the help or make a substantial
Hardy went on to explain the importance of shaking the stigma associated with
mental health and addiction. She said that people tend to avoid the topic, making it even
more difficult for victims to cope with their conditions.
Much like Hardys volunteers, Nakia is currently working to raise awareness and
provide support to the Austin music scene. After his recovery, he became a member of
the SIMS Music Advisory Boarda group of musicians, venue owners, booking agents,
music promoters and business managers who serve as SIMS ambassadors throughout the
As for Nakia himself, he says hes doing better than ever. Beyond earning
seventh place on season one of NBCs The Voice and acquiring a widespread fan base
in the process, Nakia is happy and healthy in every respect.
I have a wonderful partner of 12 years, a gorgeous championship Bouvier, a
loving community of friends and family and a lot of peers and collaborators that I get to

share musical magic with each and every day of my life, he said. And I definitely owe
a great deal of that to the SIMS Foundation.