On Being Proactive About Mental Health in 2019

Posted: by The Editor

Photo by Ali Nugent

2019 was a banner year for therapy tweets.

Mental health has been part of everyday discourse for some time now, but now, we’re talking and talking and talking about the fact that we’re getting help. Swarms of people poked fun at themselves for feeling uneasy about going to therapy, or shared the prolific guidance that their therapists gave to them. The ubiquity of it signifies that people have become more cognizant of the fact that seeking help is both feasible and impactful. Whether people joke about it or solemnly claim it has saved them, either way, making progress has become a conversational focal point. 

I began to draw parallels between this and the music that was released this year. There are heaps of songs about depression and anxiety and at this point, someone is hardly going to gasp at yet another one. This year, though, I noticed a shift. Several artists released work in 2019 that didn’t merely touch what mental illnesses they’re ailed by, but actually sought to be proactive and uplifting. Being hopeful without coming off as unrealistic or dismissive to someone’s plight is a balancing act with no perfect answer. There’s nothing wrong with feeling unwell or even joking about it, but it’s integral to realize that making efforts to better yourself is conducive to progress as a whole. 

Even emo, the genre with a proclivity for fashioning broodiness from sadness, has hit an upswing. Last month, Origami Angel released a choppy, glistening record titled Somewhere City, named after a fictional place that functions as a utopia bereft of gloom and doom.  The record is bookended by two tracks that repeat a stanza stating camaraderie can alleviate feeling “distant and broken and lonely.” The record’s mental health references are more covert, but they’re backed by reassurance. Great Grandpa, too, hailed friendship in “Bloom,” a track about the surmountable nature of anxiety. They also remind us that worries can also be quelled with a dose of perspective, like realizing it’s okay if there’s still an array boxes left unchecked on your list of goals because Tom Petty “wrote his best songs when he was 39” anyway.

And Free Throw also hit a point of self-actualization this year. The better part of their record What’s Past is Prologue is the same ol’ for the band; ie: I’m sad and I drink and I drink when I’m sad. The opening stanza details relapsing after abstaining from cigarettes for four years, then, in the closing track comes a mention of discarding a pack of them that’s nearly finished, signifying that it’s never too late to change, even if you’ve already wreaked havoc. There’s other symbolism in that track too, like planting seeds and watching them bloom, then watching that transpire and realizing that you, too, have the potential to blossom, and, more literally, telling yourself “you need to change.”

Rosie Tucker used more grisly imagery in their depiction of depression. When I interviewed them earlier this year, they told me that one of their tracks, “Shadow of a Doubt,” is about how even though progress can feel out of reach when you’re caught in depression’s chokehold, it’s not. Mentions of California redwood forests are doled out throughout, and these two continuing themes marry wonderfully when Tucker likens themself to a lumberjack in combating mental illness by wielding an axe to “bring the motherfucker down.

But I don’t think any other band this year did a better job articulating the danger of being too blasé about mental illness than PUP. I also don’t think any other band was more brutal about it than PUP, which is more than okay because sometimes, we need to be put in our place. On “Free At Last,” they told us point-blank that depression is not unique, which maybe speaks to how much mental illness has permeated our lives, but also to how we’ve collectively decided that nestling in the mess is easier than cleaning it up. Something this snarky is susceptible to being self-righteous, but PUP sidestepped that by clarifying they’re no better than us. Take “Full Blown Meltdown,” for example, the song in which asserted that although we shouldn’t “fetishize problems,” they do the same. The track’s overarching theme is that eventually, you’re going to have to cut it out because self-pity, neglecting to take care of yourself and upholding a “woe-is-me” mindset will eventually lose its spark.

I’m addled by anxiety every day, whether it be something as acute as holding conversations with others or as expansive as determining how I’d like future to pan out. And depression, too, pummels me daily, hissing that I’m inadequate or inciting me to cry over something minute. The chemical balances in my brain will persist, but it’s comforting to realize the symptoms can be remedied. I appreciate that these artists were able to encourage us to make decisions that’ll benefit us instead of insisting on giving up and residing in it.


Bineet Kaur // @hellobineet

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