It’s impossible to ignore the fact that we’re currently in the midst of a global mental health crisis.
A slew of recent studies have illuminated the prevalence of mental health issues worldwide. A UK-based survey released this year showed that, of 5000 adult participants, 26% had been diagnosed with at least one mental illness, whereas a recently-published US study showed that, between 1999 and 2014, the number of recorded suicides had increased from 29,199 to 42,773.
Mental health issues have always been a global problem, yet the discussion surrounding – and visibility of – these statistics is only recently becoming a media priority. This is in part because 2016 has been a year characterized by musicians opening up and discussing at length their own struggles with mental health.
Justin Bieber admitted that meet and greet events left him “feeling mentally and emotionally exhausted to the point of depression.” Kehlani shared a now-deleted Instagram post from a hospital bed after a suicide attempt driven by cyber-bullying. Kid Cudi announced that he was checking himself into rehab voluntarily because he was suffering from depression and Lady Gaga discussed her experiences of sexual assault and the post-traumatic stress disorder that came as a result.
The legal ordeal endured by Kesha this year underlined serious malpractice in the music industry; it seems that a combination of misogyny, online abuse and enormous stress can bruise, debilitate and often destroy the mental health of musicians more often than we realize.
In other cases, media speculation can often exacerbate mental health issues – one recent example can be found in the form of Kanye West, who was hospitalized in November. Mother-in-law Kris Jenner was soon reported to have explained that he was “exhausted” by a “gruelling tour,” yet op-eds and elaborate analyses of the rapper’s mental health quickly cropped up online.
ShrinkTank published an in-depth psychological examination, whereas Billboard asked mental health experts to weigh in; there are, however, problems with the fact that these articles rely on public knowledge and occasional speculation. Furthermore, these analyses are often compiled by psychiatrists with no personal relationship to Kanye, meaning they can be based on performances, lyrics and out-of-context clips which may reveal no true indication of West or his actual symptoms.
The sensationalism that shrouded coverage of West’s hospitalization reveals one fact – mental health issues so rarely come to the forefront of the music press that, when they do, they are analyzed to the point of counter-productivity.
The responses to any public confession of depression or anxiety by a music megastar can also be far from compassionate – when Bieber cancelled his meet-and-greets, i-D rounded up a selection of press responses which were quick to highlight the high prices of his concert tickets and label him as spoiled and obnoxious. Just weeks later, Bieber deleted his Instagram account after online bullies targeted his girlfriend on the social media platform. The star also traded insults with ex-girlfriend Selena Gomez and appealed to his fans, stating “if you guys were fans you wouldn’t be so mean to people that I like.”
Another victim of cyber-bullying this year was Kehlani, who attempted suicide after rumors of infidelity began to circulate online. Just a day later, the musician posted an Instagram photo taken in a hospital bed alongside a caption explaining she “wanted to leave this earth.” She deleted her account shortly after.
Unfortunately, the responses to these incidents also exemplify the stigma which continues to surround mental health. Contextually, although statistics show that almost 20% of American adults experience mental illness in any given year, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that only 25% of adults with mental health symptoms believe they are treated with care and compassion.
Kehlani discovered this the hard way when she was subsequently targeted by Chris Brown, who began trending online when he tweeted ‘There is no attempting suicide. Stop flexing for the Gram… OK IM DONE. Guess she gone have to watch the games from a real “box” now.”
Thankfully, Kehlani has spoken out about her experiences in the months following her ordeal. Despite scores of insensitive responses – largely provoked by Brown’s insensitive reactions – she has since spoken about her long-standing struggles with depression, highlighted the lack of information surrounding mental illness and explained that affection and compassion should be extended to anybody seen to be struggling.
She also underlined the importance of familiarity with support networks like the Suicide Prevention Hotline in a passionate speech given during a concert in May this year. By admitting her illness, sharing its consequences and speaking out, Kehlani is one of many examples of musicians telling their own stories to raise awareness of depression and its occasionally fatal effects.
Aside from sharing their own experiences, stars have also been establishing valuable charities, foundations and platforms to shed light on mental health issues resulting from sexual assault. A notable example is Lady Gaga who has, in the past, alluded to being raped by a man in a position of power in the music industry.
This year, she released a single “’Til It Happens To You,” accompanied by a video which underlined worrying statistics related to sexual assaults on college campuses. She also opened up about post-traumatic stress disorder linked to her own ordeal and was subsequently challenged by UK’s notorious provocateur Piers Morgan, who dismissed her statement as a feeble attempt at publicity. He also slammed Madonna’s recent acceptance speech at Billboard’s “Woman of the Year” awards, in which she described being raped at knifepoint on the roof of a building.
Morgan’s dismissal of sexual assault and its resulting effect on mental health symptoms are reminiscent of a society which willingly chose to elect Donald Trump – a man recorded on tape bragging that his power allowed him to “grab women by the pussy,” is elected into one of the world’s most powerful positions.
Slut-shaming – when combined with a general lack of knowledge surrounding consent – means that women are often dismissed when they speak out about sexual assault. This is a fact discovered by Kesha this year, when her lawsuit against Dr. Luke – based on claims he “drugged, emotionally abused and sexually assaulted” her – was continually stalled, rousing a flurry of media attention which honed in on the poor treatment of women in music.
Despite varied reactions to musicians and their open admissions of mental health, the fact remains that brutal honesty is scarce in the context of an industry obsessed by success and carefully-curated appearances. Stars are often placed on pedestals, subjected to unmanageable pressure not only to succeed, but to act as role models for legions of devoted fans worldwide.
By allowing themselves to be vulnerable and admitting the stress of being held to unattainable standards of perfection, these stars have not only helped to shatter the façade of the modern music industry – they’ve helped to eradicate stigma and raise awareness around the prominence and urgency of the modern mental health epidemic. That can only be a good thing.
Speaking of music, check out our round up of the 25 best albums of the year.
- Lead image: Mark Metcalfe / Getty