GENIUS OR MADNESS? MENTAL HEALTH IN THE MUSIC SCENE


Do you consider yourself an artist? Have you always leaned towards exploring artful activities that embody your emotions like music, painting, or acting rather than seeking family-pleasing, societally accepted, ordinary life goals like many of those around you? This, like many of us, has probably left you feeling alone and void of any practical solutions to the unclear problem. Well, likely those feeling are valid, as we creative people with unconventional life goals tend to suffer from mental illness seemingly more than those with “realistic goals.” Not to mention the musicians that I find to write the most heart-wrenchingly deep songs both lyrically and musically have the proclivity to feel life’s trials much harder than others, generally speaking. In the same way they feel euphoric joy, they also feel crushing lows, yet have found ways to craft those feelings with particular design.

Sometimes the ups and downs of a touring musician’s lifestyle is a set up for mental disturbance. Imagine playing your heart out to a high-octane room filled with strangers whose goal was to come watch you do what you do best- and have an amazing time doing so- because that’s what is expected of you. Essentially, you go from 0 to 100 and back down to 0 in a couple hours. Imagine that performance several nights a week in a different city every night. If that’s nothing, take into account travel time, costs and methods. There is such a thing called post performance depression where your brain struggles to level out the amount of endorphins it just massively pumped in a second, just to have that moment pass. Then it’s over. In David Bamberg’s words from his autobiography Illusion Show,

“Then you are really alone in that sea of empty seats and the color, light, music and warmth of the applause are just a memory, and, in spite of all the excitement, you know it’s been a lonely life.”

As a local musician, I have experienced this phenomena; the pre show nervousness, the powerful outlet and the praise from an audience, and then … Nothing. It’s a harsh reality even when you don’t tour. I can really see why touring musicians end up either addicted to drugs or going through major mental health crisis. The toll it takes on your body and mind gives you that instant gratification, much like that of a drug. Because, in the moments of performance your life is spectacular and special and not a single bit mundane.

Keep in mind, not all musicians suffer from mental illness or addiction, but a large percentage of us do- more specifically over 60% of us. There are varying reasons for this, but I’m a firm believer that we have to have that manic energy or deep pain to be able to make genuinely soulful and relatable music. If we can’t search the darker part of our psyches, we’re just making bubble gum flavored music.

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Whenever I would tell a teacher or family member what I truly wanted to do with my life, it was mocked in a half sympathetic tone, because those goals were far-fetched. No one actually becomes a famous musician, right? The environment you grow up in and the affect from people around you are large factors to the epidemic of anxiety and pain in artists. I am fortunate to have had a mother who supported me for everything I wanted to do and it made me stronger as both a person and an artist. I, myself, suffer from bouts of depression like many musicians and artists. I know that, from experience, channeling my feelings of anxiety and depression until I’m deep into my music is what makes it so beautiful.

There are so many important people whose lives were taken too early. Amazing musicians such as Nick Drake, Elliott Smith, Phil Ochs, Ian Curtis, Kurt Cobain and Richard Manuel to just name a few. A majority of these men suffered from addiction and other mental health issues and took to self medicating.

As a community of art and music, we need to recognize the signs. Artistic people are also stubborn people who likely won’t ask for help until it is too late. Most mental illnesses can be managed and while they can feel massively unbearable at times, you will feel better in the morning.

“Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem” and I wish I could go back to 2003 and tell Elliott that before he ended his own life, and I’m sure I’m not alone. In fact I read in an interview that he was at a bar and started talking to a random man who was also contemplating suicide because of his addiction, and Smith simply said ‘Don’t’. But tragically that same demon took Smith’s life far too early.

Unfortunately for most creative people who have ended their lives (or considering to do so) way before they got the chance to become a Cobain or a Winehouse, there is no beautiful legacy to be left, rather a traumatic disaster leaving loved ones to question and to remedy an avoidable pain. Here are a few ways you can reach out for help:

  • Message your closest friend- sometimes just vigorously typing out what you feel can go along way 
  • Talk to the person you are most comfortable with- they’ve been there for you before, they will do it again 
  • Seek therapy- a most helpful, yet often dismissed option. No one is above having someone to talk to  

Though I have studied my fair share of Psychology, I can honestly say the best advice I had ever gotten about self harm as a teenager was “write all of your major problems and stressors down in a letter, put it in an envelope and seal it. Write on the front ‘not my problem’.” I can almost guarantee when you look back on those envelopes years from then, the realization of how far you have come will be as loud as the Nick Drake record playing in your background and you will always have that pride to hold onto.

Mental health is a very important issue that can no longer be ignored. It’s not taboo and the stigmas don’t matter. What matters is you.  So help us beat the invisible Beasts, and know we are rooting for you.