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In tune: Musicians on mental health

At CALM, we use music, comedy, sport and anything in between to get our message across and to help people find the strength to seek help.

We’re not suggesting we can all be singers - don’t worry, you won’t find us performing at our next Lock In Session, we’ve got real artists for that. What we will say is that whether you’re into heavy metal, pop, or reggae, and whether you’re listening, writing or playing music, songs can stir up many emotions, often helping us process and articulate our feelings more clearly.

That’s why music is a massive part of how we get our message across. From Arlo Parks to Professor Green and Zak Abel, loads of our ambassadors are musicians; we’ve partnered with Spotify to bring you a mental health awareness hub, and we chat to loads of music artists about their experiences with mental health issues.

This article is full of ways in which music has helped our ambassadors and supporters. Because even when you're struggling and times are tough, music can help - whether that's being able to relate to particular lyrics or to motivate you to get through the day.

Music is a part of life: there for you when you're feeling crap, or when that big event in your life has happened, or when you're with all your mates. It may sound obvious, but there's a massive link between music and mental wellbeing. One thing all the musicians we’ve interviewed have in common is the positive effect music has had on them through difficult times:

When we chatted with CALM Ambassador Arlo Parks, she spoke about how important it is to share what we’re going through: “Talking about problems helps to get rid of feelings of shame isolation. When people are struggling they often feel like islands or aliens – opening conversations lets people know that they’re not alone.”

As well as writing about her struggles and music being exactly what she needs to feel like herself, the singer and poet also does workouts in her kitchen while watching arthouse films.

Dave Bayley, frontman of Glass Animals, feels that when you’re feeling sad, angry, or just a bit pissed off, sticking on your favourite tune can give your mood a boost. He created a playlist for us and talked about how songs like The Thong Song and Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys motivate him in the morning: “I guess it just releases endorphins that make you feel better. It’s a good way to start the day and gives you some space to digest things on your own, even if it is subconsciously. That bit of time to yourself is important”.

After her CALM Lock In Session, we spoke to singer and songwriter L Devine, who describes her music as “very intimate, like reading pages of someone’s diary”. Her boppy pop beats always have a message hidden in them. She feels it’s important to let people know she’s going through some of the same things they are. And writing music has a positive effect on her mood: “It’s like therapy for me – a way to get all my feelings out and digest them”.

Rap poet and Sheffield’s first-ever Poet Laureate, Otis Mensah, shared how, for him, writing music is like a ‘dear diary’: “Writing is extremely cathartic and therapeutic. It’s always been a way of untangling the complexities and confusion that’s happened in my head.”

And while penning his own songs is a great outlet for Otis, listening to others’ music, and spending time in nature can really help get him through difficult times: “Waking up, making a coffee, putting a record on the deck, and sitting and listening to my favourite Hip Hop album is a real soulful escapism for me. And spending time being close to trees and feeling the physical impact of being in nature.”

Not all mental health issues are the easiest to open up about. But Creeper’s Ian Miles wants to normalise conversations about mental health: “The more it’s talked about, the more it’s in the public eye, the easier it will be for people to understand it and feel comfortable enough to talk about.”

He spoke with CALM about his psychotic break, which led to a five-week stay on a psychiatric ward, and how friends and family were a huge part of his recovery. He also encourages talking to people when you’re feeling really down: “if you can build up the courage to talk to somebody about stuff, chances are they’ll be able to help you by either talking you through or talking you down. Or maybe they’ll help you gain enough confidence to go and see a doctor because that first step is the most difficult.”

RHODES, who took five years out, while he “fell apart and put himself back together”, chatted to us about the importance of sharing the struggles he went through in his music to help those around him understand that difficult time: I hoped it would be an expression of frustration and desperation to try to get better and have a better life”.

While he felt a little unqualified to give advice to people who are struggling with their mental health, RHODES did feel that the key to starting to get better was to talk about it: “This is why one of the most awesome things about CALM is that you’ve got that helpline where if you’re not ready to be open with your family as you could be with a stranger, then calling CALM is a great first step for sharing your problems.”

Here at CALM, we encourage community, whether that be with our collectives or fundraising runs. IDLES’ 30,000 strong AF GANG highlights this importance with their Facebook group that encourages its members to talk about their mental health without fear of judgement. Group admin Brian even feels like the band and gang saved his life: It’s given me confidence, it’s given me friendships, and it’s given me community.

Frontman and lyricist Joe Talbot also believes talking is important, even if it’s to a stranger; and that’s why he feels organisations like CALM are life-saving: “Isolation is the most dangerous thing for emotional growth. Without organisations like CALM, there’s no process in which people feel safe to speak. That’s why spreading awareness of CALM is important because a lot of people won’t necessarily know they need it until they hear about it and find out they needed it all along.”

So there you have it. Music. There for you during the ups and the downs, articulating the feelings you’re going through and often making you feel better. And when you need someone to talk to? CALM’s here for anyone who needs us.

Get support

Need support? Worried about someone? CALM’s helpline and webchat are open daily 5pm-midnight. Get access here.

Have you been affected by suicide? The Support After Suicide Partnership is a hub for anyone bereaved or affected by suicide, where you can find emotional and practical support.