Out of the Music and Into the Mind: Men's Mental Health

Out of the Music and Into the Mind: Men's Mental Health

The music news today read that Earl Sweatshirt has canceled his European tour due to anxiety and depression, a result of his father's death in January. Tour cancellations aren't exactly groundbreaking, and neither is needing to take some time off for oneself, but what's important here is the statement Earl provided to Pitchfork:

...he thought he would be ready to perform but simply is not yet able to. He would like to apologize to his fans and promises to be back as soon as he is able to.

We have here a man wracked by grief, actively trying to wrangle it in an effort to perform for the masses. You can't put a timeline on bereavement. Earl has nothing to apologize for -- he's battling his anxiety, his depression, and taking the time to feel, to mourn, to survive. 

Though many fans are supportive of Earl's decision, others feel snubbed, seeking reparations for what they deem an injustice to their concert-going efforts. When are we going to normalize men's mental health? When will it be across-the-board okay for a man -- a musician -- to choose their mind over their music? This is just one instance of how men's mental health is stigmatized in the music industry (in general, too, of course). 

Last month, Scott Hutchison -- frontman of Scottish folk-rock band Frightened Rabbit -- took his life after a long battle with depression. The news was a jarring, unwelcome truth to Scott's family, friends, and fans, many feeling the secondhand hurt of a man who had always been so candid about his struggles. Often penning Frightened Rabbit tracks about his relentless crusade against depression, Scott was a humble, honest voice in music, articulating feelings we never knew there were words for. His talent met a devastating end, but has since served to generate a little more buzz about men's mental health in music, a worthy discussion. 

We're moving into an age now where people are -- thankfully -- more receptive and willing to talk about the subject, but we are still merely skimming the surface of what it means to normalize mental health, particularly men's. Mental Health America compiled a quick guide to mental health for men including these harrowing statistics...

  1. Roughly 6 million of men are affected by depression each year.
  2. More than 4 times as many men as women die by suicide in the U.S.
  3. Approximately 1 in 5 men develop an alcohol dependency during their lives.

Here's the wildly unsurprising kicker: Men are less likely than women to seek help for depression, substance abuse, and stressful life events due to a general reluctance to talk and their own downplaying of their symptoms... both of which arise from social norms that reject men's public display of mental health. Years of lauding masculinity and celebrating men's strength over their emotions -- a primitive practice -- has crippled the fragile fabric of society. Masculinity norms (ex. boys don't cry; men shouldn't share their feelings) are an imprisonment. They govern the way boys behave and the way men persist. Harmful repercussions to offering this basis to our boys during childhood include "rage, anxiety, depression, and unhealthy coping mechanisms," says psychotherapist Lena Derhally, cognate characteristics of being unable to properly engage with one's emotions. 

How, then, do we normalize mental health in a way that encourages men to excavate their souls without shame or uncertainty? It's a heavy question. It's bound to take time to flip society on its head and offer opportunities for all genders to feel comfortable expressing themselves appropriately. 

Perhaps a quick fix -- or at least some sort of sonic safe haven -- resides in music. In recent years, musicians like Logic and Zayn Malik have opened up about their mental health struggles, getting real about their monsters. Musicians often hold a unique position in which their platform can be used to cast far-reaching insight and support, especially in terms of mental health. This is an important one, but it's important to remember that this isn't their responsibility, necessarily -- not everybody wants to empty their heart and soul to the world. Whether it's Earl Sweatshirt separating work and life in order to grieve privately or Kid Cudi publicly seeking support upon checking into rehab for depression, the men in this industry deserve to tango with their emotions in appropriate, suitable ways, without shame. 

We need to talk about men's mental health. We need to make more of an active effort to allow men the time and support to get real, get vocal, get honest about their emotions. Not normalizing the single most unifying factor across the world -- our minds -- may serve as a catalyst for continuing tragedies including suicide, depression, anxiety, and more. Let's talk about it.

Musicians frequently vocal about their mental health struggles:

  1. Mary Lambert, spoken-word artist and singer-songwriter whose work often touches on body positivity, her bipolar disorder, and de-stigmatizing mental illness.
  2. Kehlani, R&B artist who has spoken out about her suicide attempt and support for mental health.
  3. Jay-Z, iconic rapper who actively advocates for therapy in public schools and mental health opportunities within black communities.
  4. Kings of Leon, Nashville-based rock band whose songs often touch on tough subjects familiar to lead singer Caleb Followill including anorexia, alcoholism, and more.
  5. Angel Haze, hip-hop artist whose work reflects her advocacy for mental health reform and gets real about her own personal battles.
  6. Grieves, Seattle rapper whose albums often reference his addiction troubles and feelings of depression.
  7. James Blake, singer-songwriter who called out the media on trivializing men's mental health and encourages men to speak up about their feelings.
  8. Passion Pit, indietronica band whose lead singer Michael Angelakos opened up about his struggles with bipolar disorder and fight for mental health access.

Resources to learn more about men's mental health:

  1. Music Minds Matter, a support line and service for UK musicians to reach out in times of need. 
  2. Men Tell Health, a website devoted to sharing support and resources for men and their mental health.
  3. Brother, You're On My Mind, an initiative that educates people about stress and depression rates for black men.
  4. MusiCares, a U.S. foundation that provides financial, personal, and medical support for musicians.
  5. The Good Men Project, a website that opens up dialogue for men to share their experiences about what it means to be a man.

Featured photo: Scott Hutchison by Markus Thorsen.

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