Let's Talk: Male Music Stars Are Talking About Mental Health


Studies show that men – who are generally programmed to show weakness – are less likely to talk about their mental health.  Yet, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), four of every five suicides are male.

In the last few years alone, the music world has lost huge talents like Chris Cornell, Chester Bennington, and Avicii to suicide.

In a 2014 interview with Rolling Stone, Cornell said he “always struggled with depression and isolation.”

Bennington’s widow, Talinda Bennington told CNN her husband suffered from depression most of his life and she recognized the signs: “The hopelessness, the change of behaviour, isolation,” she said, adding that it’s so important to have “people we trust that we can talk to, that help us to make better choices for ourselves.”

"I tried to laugh about it / Cover it all up with lies / I tried to laugh about it / Hiding the tears in my eyes / ‘Cause boys don't cry.”

- “Boys Don’t Cry” by The Cure (1980)

The CMHA quotes Dr. Michael Myers of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of British Columbia as saying: “Too many men out there are suffering.”

One of the goals of the annual Bell Let’s Talk Day, which this year falls on Jan. 30, is to start conversations about mental health – including among men.

An increasing number of male music artists have chosen to talk about it.

Among them is Shawn Mendes. The 20-year-old Canadian singer, who has been open about living with anxiety, said talking with others about what he’s feeling was an important step.

“People forget how important it is to talk to your family and to talk to your friends about what’s going on in your life, because the more you tell people how you feel, the more you understand how you feel and you have more control of your emotions,” he told The Sun.

“I made a conscious effort to be more connected to the people in my life. I found I was closing myself off from everybody, thinking that would help me battle it... then realizing the only way I was going to battle it was completely opening up and letting people in.”

Mendes said therapy is helpful – but it doesn’t necessarily have to be the traditional kind.

“Therapy is what works for you… climbing a mountain,” he said. “Therapy is listening to music and running on the treadmill, therapy is going to dinner with your friends — it’s something that distracts you, that helps you heal and so it just depends on what you think therapy is.”

Mendes’ 2018 hit “In My Blood” addresses the anxiety he struggles with. But, he said, it’s important to know that “all pain is temporary.”

He explained: "Sometimes it lasts two hours, sometimes it lasts a day and sometimes it lasts five minutes. The point of the song is that no matter how long that lasts, you can come out the other end stronger and you come out of the other end always.”

Mendes told NME the dialogue about men’s mental health is only just beginning. "You have to start somewhere, and start the conversation about ‘This is how I feel, take it or leave it’. That’s life.”

In his memoir, singer Zayn recalled having to cancel a show because he was struggling with anxiety. He said his reps offered to put out a statement that he had fallen ill.

“I didn’t want to do that. I was done with putting out statements that masked what was really going on. I wanted to tell the truth,” he wrote. “Anxiety is nothing to be ashamed of; it affects millions of people every day. I know I have fans out there who have been through this kind of thing, too, and I wanted to be honest for their sake, if nothing else.”

In his book, Zayn described his anxiety as “this thing that swells up and blocks out your rational thought processes. Even when you know you want to do something, know that it will be good for you, that you’ll enjoy it when you’re doing it, the anxiety is telling you a different story. It’s a constant battle within yourself.”

Sharing his story with fans had an impact. “Guys on Twitter were telling me how anxiety had affected their lives and saying that they were glad I had spoken up,” Zayn wrote.

Chance the Rapper answered “definitely” when he was asked by Complex in 2017 if he suffers from anxiety.

“A really big conversation and idea that I'm getting introduced to right now is black mental health. 'Cause for a long time that wasn't a thing that we talked about,” he said. “I don't remember it. I don't remember people talking about anxiety; I don't remember, when I was growing up, that really being a thing.

“Now I'm starting to get a better understanding of that part of my life.”

Daniel Boczarski / Getty Images

Years ago, Fall Out Boy bassist Pete Wentz spoke about his mental health issues, including the fact that he was diagnosed as bipolar. 

“My highs are really high and my lows are very low and I’m not able to regulate between the two,” he told Half of Us. "Through actual therapy and having kids it’s way more under control and something I can see when I’m on the roller coaster, and control it more.”

Wentz stressed the importance of realizing you are not alone in your struggles. “There's other people out there that feel [suicidal], or are feeling that right at that time," he said. "Maybe your favourite actor, or a guy in a band, or whoever, there are people who feel that exact same thing and have made it through that,” I would say more than anything, you're not alone in it.

Another rock bassist, U2’s Adam Clayton, opened up in 2016 about his struggle with mental health issues and how it led to a dependency on alcohol.

“I pretty much had a eureka moment. I was fed up of the way I felt constantly,” he told RTE.

At the root of addiction, certainly in my case, was a mental issue. It's how I approached the day. I was able to get help and revise my thinking and turn that around. I'm a much happier bunny now.”

Clayton stressed that mental illness is curable. "It is not something that you have to live with for the rest of your life,” he said. “It is not something that will stop you being part of the workforce. But you do have to talk to people about it and you do have to get help. And you can recover.”

In 2017, Clayton helped raise awareness about depression and suicide among young men.

“Anything we can do to help those people realize that there is help available and that they can lift the phone and get help - is great,” he told RTE

Montreal duo Chromeo (Patrick Gemayel and David Macklovitch) announced last summer they had scrapped gigs in Australia to “prioritize our health and well-being.” 

A few weeks earlier, Macklovitch took to Instagram to share his own mental health experiences.

“I’ve suffered from anxiety and depression my whole life,” he wrote. “As early as I can remember, when I was a kid, I used to make up little songs about death and wanting to die.”

The artist said he was in his 30s before he realized that anxiety is a disease. “It wasn’t until the chest pains became crippling back pains, until the desire to stay in bed all day gave way to much darker thoughts, that I decided to get help.”

Macklovitch went on to promote therapy, medication and meditation.

“If you’re feeling anxious, if your chest hurts, you have trouble breathing and you feel the need to go home and lay down, please don’t be ashamed and don’t blame yourself for it,” he wrote. “Same if you’re feeling self-destructive. It’s not your fault. Please try to talk to someone.”

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UK singer Robbie Williams last year revealed he’s got “a disease that wants to kill me and it’s in my head.”

He told The Sun: “Sometimes it overwhelms me and sometimes it’s a tool I need to get on stage. Sometimes I live in bliss and it’s wonderful. But most of the time I’m human — having a human experience, ­trying to deal with the trials and tribulations of what goes on between my ears.”

Bruce Springsteen wrote extensively in his memoir Born to Run about periods of feeling “crushed” by depression. The rocker described it as “a freight train bearing down, loaded with nitroglycerin and running quickly out of track.”

Springsteen said therapy and medication have helped him. “Whoever you’ve been and wherever you’ve been, it never leaves you,” he told Vanity Fair, of depression. “I always picture it as a car. All your selves are in it. And a new self can get in, but the old selves can’t ever get out.

“The important thing is, who’s got their hands on the wheel at any given moment?”

Bennett Raglin / Getty Images

Hip hop artist Kid Cudi opened up to his fans in 2016 about living with anxiety and depression – a day after checking himself into a facility for treatment.

“I simply am a damaged human swimming in a pool of emotions everyday of my life,” he wrote on Facebook. “Theres a ragin violent storm inside of my heart at all times. 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 make new friends because of it. I dont trust anyone because of it and Im tired of being held back in my life.”

Cudi acknowledged: “I deserve to have peace. I deserve to be happy and smiling. Why not me? I guess I give so much of myself to others I forgot that I need to show myself some love too. I think I never really knew how. Im scared, im sad, I feel like I let a lot of people down and again, Im sorry. Its time I fix me. Im nervous but ima get through this.”

Of course, not all mental health issues are necessarily life-threatening. Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine admitted in 2013 that he struggled with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) throughout his life.

“It was hard for me to sit down, focus, and get schoolwork done," he recalled. “My struggles continued as an adult. I had trouble sometimes writing songs and recording in the studio. I couldn’t always focus and complete everything I had to."

Levine said he learned that ADHD, which is a common childhood diagnosis, doesn’t necessarily go away as you get older.

“ADHD isn’t a bad thing, and you shouldn’t feel different from those without ADHD,” he said. “Remember that you are not alone. There are others going through the same thing.”

Therein is the key message about all mental health conditions: There are others going through the same thing.

If you or someone you know is struggling and need to talk, click here for resources.

Bell Let’s Talk on Jan. 30 is an initiative of Bell Media, parent company of iHeartRadio in Canada.