We Are Not Okay: Mental Health in the Music Industry

Photo from Selena Gomez's Instagram

by Lily Lyons

Photo from runthetrap.com

Photo from runthetrap.com

“I guess I give so much of myself to others I forgot I need to show myself some love too,” Kid Cudi wrote last week in a Facebook post where he revealed his depression and suicidal impulses. In five brave paragraphs, he talked about his struggles to stay healthy, but reassured fans that his choice to care for himself did not mean he didn’t love them. He would release his album and his team would keep his social media presence active. Failing to meet everyone’s expectations worried him, so he had made sure everything was in place before he broke down.

The courage of Kid Cudi’s post struck me. Many of his fans have since spoken up about their own anxiety and depression. His disclosure has also inspired #yougoodman, a hashtag that makes space for black men to talk about their challenges with mental health. But Cudi’s sense of shame was concerning. He wrote as if his being in danger of taking his own life was a technical glitch, an inconvenience. As if he owed us—his audience—a public explanation and apology for a matter that was deeply personal.

There is still crippling stigma surrounding mental health issues in the music industry. That stigma exerts pressure on those musicians who are having trouble maintaining mental health, making it more difficult for them get support and be okay with not being okay. Kid Cudi is not the only one struggling: Selena Gomez just checked into rehab after canceling the remainder of her Revival tour due to depression and anxiety brought on by lupus. ZAYN and Ellie Goulding have confessed to experiencing debilitating panic attacks. And Kehlani paused one of her concerts recently to talk about her suicide attempt, encouraging fans to seek help if they were going to a similarly dark place.

Photo from Selena Gomez's Instagram

Photo from Selena Gomez’s Instagram

The news of another artist or celebrity breaking down is so frequent that we often stay numb and don’t stop scrolling when we see it. Worse yet, we think that artists are faking it for attention, because we cannot imagine why they would be sad when they have fame and resources. We don’t realize that when we fail to take artists’ mental health struggles seriously we are holding them to a razor sharp double standard, and effectively saying that it’s okay for the music industry to disregard a musician’s emotional wellbeing.

Our favorite artists leave space for us to imagine ourselves into the stories they tell from their personal lives: their breakups become our breakups, their triumphs our triumphs. They have painstakingly developed the skills to use music as a conduit for their emotions. Unfortunately, we combine our listening pleasure with a desire to see artists live a charmed life worthy of Instagram envy. This combination creates an unrealistic expectation: we want them to be vulnerable for us, but only when it’s convenient. We expect them to strip down and show real emotion, but appear perfectly put together as soon as the music ends—no matter what they are going through.

Platinum-selling songwriter Halsey recently told Rolling Stone that she suffered a miscarriage on the day of a show for Vevo Lift. She considered going to the hospital but the gig was too important to miss: “That was the moment of my life where I thought to myself, ‘I don’t feel like a human being anymore.’ This thing, this music… took precedence and priority over every decision that I made,” she said in her interview. The pressure to keep making music at any cost is hardly confined to established artists. I joke with my friends at Berklee about turning in assignments even if our families died in a car crash. We keep performing and practicing when our hands bleed. We stay quiet about what we had to sacrifice to get to this school because we know, intuitively, that nothing gives.

I’m not advocating for babying musicians; music is a field requiring toughness and relentless ambition. But I think we could develop greater compassion for the artists who soundtrack our lives. They must court—but not get burned by—intense emotions in order to make music that their fans want to hear. It’s a messy process worthy of appreciation and respect. And when they do experience depression or anxiety, it is not weakness. No artist should not be afraid to put their wellbeing first.