Despite the fact that 1 in 5 adults in the United States suffer from mental illness each year, the stigma associated with issues like anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and more are still rampant. In some cases, mental illness can bear no physical markers, leaving many to suffer in silence, living in shame for what they're dealing with internally. But the only way for us to destroy such ridiculous claims that mental illness is a sign of "weakness" or that prioritizing your mental health is "selfish," we as a society have to change the narrative by speaking up about our experiences.
Considering May is National Mental Health Awareness month, we're recognizing these 10 musicians who have liberated themselves (and others) by being open about their own mental health struggles.
It's no secret that after Kanye West's mother died in 2007, his world came crashing down. Since then, Yeezy has used his songs as a space to talk openly about his struggle with depression. In the 2012 song "Clique," he rapped: "Went through deep depression when my mama passed / Suicide, what kinda talk is that?" And more recently, on The Life of Pablo's "FML," he referenced what he's like when he's not on his anti-depressant medication: "You ain't never seen nothing crazier than / this nigga when he off his Lexapro / Remember that last time in Mexico? / Remember that last time, the episode?" In 2016, Kanye was hospitalized for sleep deprivation and exhaustion, but his latest Twitter spree shows he's back to creating fashion and music, and inspiring and angering the masses.
For those who've never experienced depression before, dealing with it for the first time can be frustrating, confusing, and full of shame, as J. Cole learned when he was battling depression while recording his album, Born Sinner. While preparing his sophomore album, he was silently living in a "dark place… fighting all these negative thoughts]" and felt as if his "self-confidence [was] kinda shattered," as he told The Source. But he'd never dealt with those emotions before. He'd been used to operating in the world with a quiet strength and confidence, "so when I had to deal with that type of mind state, I wasn't speaking on it." He related what he was feeling to dealing with an overwhelming amount of pressure, and while he never had suicidal thoughts, he recognized that it can often push people to their limits. "Pressure is real man... Sometimes the pressure is so strong, you can't even see what you got in front of you which is like - you can't see you've got a real life in front of you. You got friends who love you, family that love you, kids that love you, but you just so worried about this it dominates all your thoughts, that now interferes with your life and that's when people end it… Pressure feels the same no matter what situation you're in."
In 2016, Kid Cudi checked himself into rehab for depression and suicidal urges. In a Facebook message he wrote at the time, Cudi explained to fans the trials he faced daily. "Idk what peace feels like. Idk how to relax. My anxiety and depression have ruled my life for as long as I can remember and I never leave the house because of it. I cant [sic] make new friends because of it. I dont [sic] trust anyone because of it and Im [sic] tired of being held back in my life. I deserve to have peace. I deserve to be happy and smiling. Why not me?" Cudi's admission sparked the hashtag #YouGoodMan, which started a necessary conversation around mental illness among black men – a population who, because of cultural taboos, are often pressured into silence.
It was because of SZA's depression that she says she initially got into music, working alongside her brother, rapper Mnhattn. "I was depressed and he was depressed, and I didn't have shit else to do," she told Rolling Stone. She soon learned that music was "just one thing I didn't suck at." To say that SZA doesn't suck at music is an incredible understatement. She was nominated for Best New Artist at the 2018 Grammys and she's had hit songs like "Love Galore," "Broken Clocks," and her feature on Kendrick Lamar's "All the Stars" ascend the charts, making her what some deem as the "most successful young female R&B singer of the decade," according to Uproxx. But SZA acknowledges that she had to beat suicidal depression to get to that point, a feat that even she is amazed at: "I don't know how; I just prayed." Now, to maintain a healthy lifestyle for the sake of her mental state and her career, she's making necessary changes to keep herself on top. She told Billboard, "I'm starting to care about myself in weird, small ways: changing my diet, meditating and learning to say no. I'm learning to take time to do what I want. I have an abundant amount of love in my life, and I'm grateful for that."
TBHHHH.... TOBETRANSPARENTTTTT....just thankful to be happy and healthy... dead ass. it was recent times i wasn’t either, i was so down inside it took over my entire outward personality AND appearance. you could just tell i wasn’t doin good. these days you can’t take the smile off my face and can’t nun steal my joy. you CAN AND WILL beat WHATEVER you’re going thru, diagnosed and all. stay focused, be gentle and patient with yourself, and understand that every single one of us are winging it... breathe thru it pumpkinnnnz, life 2 short 2 not let yourself enjoy it. NEW ZEALAND TOMORROW TOUR WITH HALSEY & countdown to my birthday!
When Kehlani's dating life became the subject of widespread speculation and was making more news than her music, the singer felt like it was all too much to bear. "I was a person that genuinely only wanted to be known for my music … [and] the entire world is coming at you and it's viral," she told The L.A. Times. "When you Googled my name that's all you saw for months. I was terrified to go outside." The unwanted attention left her in a dark place and she tried to take her own life. After the suicide attempt, she spent time in Hawaii to focus on healing. Since then, she's been vocal in talking about depression and suicide prevention. "It's something that so many young people are dealing with," she said. "So many young people just slip under the rug to things like depression and severe anxiety and many disorders that people know nothing about."
While JAY-Z hasn't publicly discussed dealing with any specific mental illness, he expressed how life-changing seeing a therapist has been for him. "I grew so much from the experience," he told The New York Times. "But I think the most important thing I got is that everything is connected. Every emotion is connected and it comes from somewhere. And just being aware of it. Being aware of it in everyday life puts you at such a ... you're at such an advantage." Like other people in the black community, it took Jay some time to get over the stigma associated with therapy, but he told CNN's Van Jones, "As you grow, you realize the ridiculousness of the stigma attached to it. It's like, what? You just talk to someone about your problems." Now that he's older and more mature, he recognizes the importance of making sure younger kids have access to the same types of resources and thinks therapists should be in schools. "Children have the most going on...How can you know [that] when a guy's bullying you all you have to do is say, 'Man, are you OK?'"
Kung Fu Kenny is not one for shying away from uncomfortable subjects that merit conversation, including his personal battles with his inner demons. On his 2015 album To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick revealed on the track "i," "I've been dealing with depression ever since an adolescent." And he went into further detail about his mental struggles on "u" rapping, "I know your secrets, nigga / Mood swings is frequent, nigga / I know depression is restin' on your heart for two reasons, nigga / … And if I told your secrets / The world'll know money can't stop a suicidal weakness." In a society that constantly tells men to hide their emotions, Kendrick shows that there's strength in vulnerability and uses his music to grapple with his complicated emotions.
So, I’m insecure about my legs in this picture but I’m posting it because I look so happy and this year I’ve decided I’m letting go of my perfectionism and embracing freedom from self criticism. Learning to love my body the way it is is challenging but life changing. Giving up my eating disorder has been the most challenging journey of my life but I work every day towards solid recovery even if I mess up sometimes. Today I’m feeling strong. You all can do it too. It IS possible. Thank you God for this new chapter in my life. #EDrecovery #happyAF
As a major pop star, Demi Lovato is not out here just trying to create Top 40 magic; she's also helping dismantle the stigmas around mental illness. At just 25 years old, she's become one of the most recognizable mental health advocates and is using her experiences with eating disorders and bipolar disorder to make a change in the way we talk about and treat people who need help. During her 2018 tour, she partnered with The Cast Foundation to bring free mental health counseling sessions to each one of her shows. She's even taken her advocacy to Congress and talked with lawmakers about the need for more comprehensive mental health reform. She's hopeful that through her work, more people will feel empowered to speak out and seek the assistance they need. "The more that you're vocal for yourself and others, the more that people can help you."
Shortly before Big Sean turned 30, a friend of his committed suicide. This got him thinking about the decisions he'd been making in his personal life and the changes he needed to make; one in particular was to take better care of his mental health. In a series of Instagram videos, he explained, "I get caught up in trying to be that boss and take care of everybody around me… [that] I put myself last." But he acknowledged that in order for him to improve himself, he's got to be open about his life and struggles. "I got problems internalizing a lot… When I'm depressed or going through real shit we all go through." He reminded his fans that we're "all in this together" and "if I've got a mental illness or anybody around us, we've got to speak up because those are our problems."
After years of quietly battling bipolar disorder, Mariah Carey recently revealed details about her life since being diagnosed in 2001. At first, the disorder was left untreated and she "lived in denial and isolation." However, eventually her condition became "too heavy a burden to carry and I simply couldn't do that anymore." Now she's found the right medication, is in therapy and hopes her candor will help others who are in similar situations. "I'm just in a really good place right now, where I'm comfortable discussing my struggles with bipolar II disorder. I'm hopeful we can get to a place where the stigma is lifted from people going through anything alone. It can be incredibly isolating. It does not have to define you and I refuse to allow it to define me or control me."
In Vic Mensa's 2017 album, The Autobiography, the Chi-Town rapper bared his soul, speaking on infidelity, drug addiction, suicidal thoughts, and more. Mensa drew from his own personal experiences to address issues like depression and suicide, topics that often go ignored. "Mental health is something that we don't speak about in the Black community," he detailed to REVOLT. "It's something we don't really speak about in hip-hop and everybody's dealing with things and you mention 'psychiatrist' or 'therapist' and people are like 'I'm not crazy!'" But as Mensa explained, there are signs of more people struggling with mental illness than the hip-hop world cares to be honest about. "The community is very open in rap and music about the drugs that are very much a part of the lifestyle, but not so much open about what's underneath drug use," he once told Complex. Ultimately Mensa believes we all need to "recogniz[e] that everybody's different, everybody has their problems and it's not bad to seek help."
At the age of 16, Halsey was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and at 17 she attempted suicide and ended up in a psychiatric hospital. It was right after her time in the hospital that Halsey realized the significant role music played in her life. "The day I got out of the hospital I was in the car and I was listening to Imagine Dragons. It was a fucking moment for me. I don't think I realized how important music was to me before that Three years later, I was opening their U.S. arena tour," she told Billboard. Halsey's never tried denying who she is and the challenges she faces, and she admits that she takes criticism "to heart" due to her condition, but claps back against people who say that she shouldn't be in the business if she can't deal with the backlash. She once told Pedestrain.tv, "I think that's messed up. I deserve to chase my dream and do what I love even though I have a mental illness."
2015 brought Logic a lot of success. He'd made more money than he'd seen in his life (we're sure that figure has only grown since then); he'd recently married singer Jessica Andrea (they've since filed for divorce), and he was gearing up to go on tour for his album, The Incredible True Story. But he was "unhappy," he told CBS. Around that time he suffered a severe anxiety attack, was hospitalized and later diagnosed with derealization ("an intense form of anxiety where you feel like you're almost separated, and there's a filter between you and reality at all times because you're hyper-analyzing the situations around you.") His anxiety was coupled with bouts of depression. He recalled being "on a tour bus crying, saying, 'I can't do this anymore.'" But he channeled that energy into his subsequent album, Everybody, from which the hit suicide prevention song, "1-800-273-8255," comes from. And while Logic admitted he's never personally considered committing suicide, he wrote the songs for his fans in an attempt to really try and help save someone's life.