TRIGGER WARNING: This article discusses suicide, abuse and rape. If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact Beyond Blue at 1300 22 4636 or go to https://www.beyondblue.org.au.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Now, more than ever, we need to ensure that conversations around mental health happen publicly and regularly. Over the course of this month, we’ll be sharing a series of articles focusing on the importance and understanding of mental health and illness, breaking the associated stigmas, and overall, helping to do our part to make the subject less taboo. After all, just like any physical ailment, disease, or disorder, mental illness can happen to anyone — often without reason or warning. It remains one of the most misunderstood and under-discussed topics in the world today.
While more artists continue to open up about mental health not only in interviews and/or social media, some have turned those experiences into music. We’ve rounded up 13 songs with lyrics about topics like depression, abuse, grief, therapy, anxiety and more. — Remember, you are not alone.
Imogen Clark and Colin Hay – First Class Man
First Class Man is an emotional tribute to Clark’s musical collaborator and mentor, the late Glen Hannah. Named ‘Musician of the Year’ in 2017 at the Golden Guitar Awards, and highly respected and admired by many, the news of his death rocked the Australian country music industry in 2019. Hannah was married to Felicity Urquhart and shared two daughters, Tia and Ellie.
Clark says, “In 2019, Glen lost his battle with depression, a battle I had no idea he was waging through the years we knew each other. It really goes to show that you never know what people are going through under the surface, and Glen was a classic example of the phrase “still waters run deep”. He was one of the most humble, talented, kind and generous people I knew, and not a day goes by that I don’t think about Glen and wish I could have done something to help.”
Travis Collins – Call Me Crazy
Call Me Crazy was written about his father-in-law who took his own life in 2013. Turning the devastating personal loss into a passion for suicide prevention, Collins is an ambassador for R U OK?
Collins says, “The loss of my father-in-law completely rattled the foundations of our family. No one in the town would have picked it, but in hindsight there were red flags that I didn’t notice because it was him. I thought, ‘It won’t happen to us. He’s too happy.”
He adds, “Call Me Crazy is for our loved ones we’ve lost way too soon, often suddenly and almost always unfairly. Personally, for me… there’s always that struggle of disbelief… Knowing the hard truth yet refusing to accept them gone. You still feel them around, in everything… and you don’t know if it’s you doing that… or them.
The track Lost and Uninspired from his 2015 album, Wired carries the same heartfelt sentiments.
Brett Eldredge – Good Day
Eldredge has begun speaking more openly about his own mental health journey and the importance of prioritising one’s mental health. Seeking to change his mindset into a more positive one, he sought professional help. His latest single, Good Day – the second from his 2020 album, Sunday Drive – is a musical reminder of the power of positivity. The song also sparked the idea for Eldredge’s Good Day Movement, aimed at helping communities in need.
He says, “In our society everybody feels like we need to put on that perfect outer look. I got so tired of that. I didn’t want to do it anymore. This song says, you know, have the self-awareness… of being like, ‘I’m gonna make this a good day no matter what is thrown at me. I’ve been somebody who’s kind of scared of vulnerability a little bit, but I’ve started to realise that opening up and telling someone your thoughts and what’s going on in your world and having them help you find ways to cope with it is a big deal.”
Jason Isbell – Anxiety
Anxiety is a composition that addresses the effects of mental illness, particularly how people suffering from it also have to grapple with other people’s perceptions of what they’re going through.
“I don’t have a clinically diagnosed anxiety issue or these sort of crippling attacks where I can’t function,” Isbell said. “But I did want to cover that and represent that aspect of things in the song. So, I went to my wife, who has more experience with that kind of stuff, and we co-wrote that song. I wanted to be specific and describe people’s experiences when they have these sort of moments where they’re disconnected from reality and things get overwhelming. So, I went to her about that.”
Matt Kennon – The Call
Kennon sings of a couple of stories in The Call. One, of a distraught young man parking his truck in them woods and about to “pull the trigger”. The other, of two 18-year-olds unsettled by an unwanted pregnancy about to pull the plug in an abortion clinic. The equally powerful music video ultimately expresses the importance of supporting those around you and paying attention when you think someone may be struggling.
Kennon says, “The official video for the single, that is blowing up phone lines all over the country. I’m so appreciative of all the support for this song and video so far – I really believe it can change lives.”
His songs have hit home with many struggling with issues like suicide, post-traumatic stress, and bullying. The Atlanta-native also has developed an anti-bullying program, which he taken to 83 schools to reach over 150,000 students with a powerful anti-bullying message.
Brooke Lambert – Smile Again
Showing remarkable strength and courage, Smile Again shows that while certain, unspeakable moments can’t necessarily be erased, they don’t have to define or completely ruin you. After courageously telling fans on social media that she was drugged and raped after playing a solo gig, Lambert continued to chronicle details of the events and feelings following the traumatic experience.
She says, “The weeks following consisted of abuse and threats to remove my statement against my rapist. My anxiety had gotten so bad that I couldn’t eat, talk or breathe without struggle. I’d developed a fear of my phone and my whole entire body would shut down when I heard it ring in case it was someone calling to abuse me again. Meanwhile, playing that night in my head over and over again.”
She adds, “This song is my story, but I think in some way, it is everyone’s story. I hope that whatever you are going through, whether it’s bullying, abuse, a breakup, depression, loss or any kind of hard time, that you can listen and become stronger. I need you to know that whatever it is you are going through, that just like me, YOU will smile again.”
Blaine Larsen – How Do You Get That Lonely
Written as a tribute and dedication to the memory of Lance Emmitt who committed suicide at the age of 19, the lyrics contemplate the reasoning behind how and why the boy could have made this decision. The song helps to convey the idea that a person’s choice to commit suicide affects more than just themself; an entire community is negatively impacted by this decision.
“I got chills when I first heard it, and I knew it was a song I was supposed to cut,” Larsen said. “I was deciding between a few songs on the record, leaning towards a different song, and I came home and had a bunch of e-mails, and one said, ‘Your song kept me from committing suicide.’ I got emotional reading the e-mail. It was eye-opening to me that the song could do that.”
Tyler Joe Miller – Fighting
Fighting emphasises the message of ‘one day at a time’ that so often becomes the mantra of many, no matter their personal and/or professional situations. Miller says, it’s “about exposing the skeletons in your closet and the demons in your bed that everyone has, and the song is about fighting with yourself and your insecurities to overcome them and try to become a better person.”
Since releasing the song in December 2020, Miller has received an outpour of messages from people sharing their own personal stories and struggles.
He adds, “Fighting quickly became less about me and my story and more about everyone else who have related to it and write themselves into it with their own struggles … Cutting the BS and talking about real issues and struggles can be hard but glad that this song is able to help open the conversation a little bit to break the stigma. Remember, if you struggle, you’re in the majority.”
Maren Morris – GIRL
GIRL takes on the topic of women being pitted against each other, and the anxieties that constant scrutiny can fuel. The song was initially inspired by a “tiff” Morris had with a friend in the industry.
“I don’t know if it’s, like, each other or society that makes us competitive with each other, but I started this song as almost, like, a plea to this other woman. Like, ’Can we please just get our s**together and be cool?’… I was just talking freely about how ugly I was being,” Morris has said of the song. “You know, you get so in your head. Like, if someone wins something, it’s taking something away from you, which is just complete and utter bulls**t. I just really hated the way that I was reacting to things that other people were succeeding at. It really just was unflattering and, it’s like, owning up to that is such a powerful thing once you realise it.”
Since the birth of her son Hayes in 2020, Morris has addressed the unhealthy pressure on mothers to get their pre-baby figures back.
David Nail – Oh, Mother
Nail has been one country performers to address mental health, openly discussing his struggles with depression, a journey that informs his self-penned track, Oh, Mother from his 2019 Let It Rain EP. His mission with Oh, Mother is to make sure his mother knows that his own struggles with mental health are no one’s fault, especially not hers.
He says, “I think the ’storm’ in the song represents a lot of things. And as we recorded it, I began seeing it in many ways. I felt like it was almost like a soldier going off to war. Saying, ’If I don’t make it back, mother, I love you!’ … the storm is the daily battle. So, for me, it was, ’Mother, if I don’t ever return to the son you knew me as, before this battle mentally began, it’s not your fault. It’s just who I was born to be.’”
Shane Nicholson – Weight of the World
Nicholson battled depression for years, he just didn’t know it. It wasn’t until his marriage ended when he suspected something more serious. The music video for Weight of the World, which features You Am I frontman Tim Rogers, attempts to capture what living with depression is like for both the sufferer and their loved ones.
Nicholson says, “I think the stigma of mental illness is changing and that’s the whole point of the song, certainly with people my age who are becoming more self-aware and finding reasons for their behaviour and how they feel. And it’s not just the creative people I know but half the people I know in my life.”
Nicholson addressed the issue again in the Golden Guitar ‘APRA AMCOS Song of the Year’ winning track, The High Price of Surviving, co-written with newcomer Leyon Milner.
Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss – Whiskey Lullaby
Arguably one of the most powerfully penned songs in country music, Whiskey Lullaby addresses the use of alcohol to cope with tragedy, regret and self-blame. The song tells the tale of a couple who had an abruptly painful separation leading both to alcoholism. In what seems to be an unfortunate event, the two eventually found themselves drinking to death: first, the man, with a broken heart, and followed by the woman, feeling guilty for the man’s death.
The song was co-written by Jon Randell, who had lost a writing and record deal while going through a divorce. He found himself drinking whiskey regularly and sleeping on a friend’s couch for a couple of weeks to cope. It was then he realised, “I’ve been an inconvenience to you. I’ve been an intruder, really, in your life and your home”, to which his friend answered, “That’s all right, Jon. I’ve put the bottle to my head and pulled the trigger a few times myself.”
Randall himself also included a version on his 2005 album Walking Among the Living.
Morgan Wade – The Night
Wade’s track The Night goes deep on a person’s self-awareness of mental health struggles and the false hope of relief doctors and pharmaceutical companies promise their pills contain, as well as the stigma of opening up and talking about mental health issues. Like Miller’s Fighting, after previewing the song on her Facebook page in September 2018, she received an outpour of love and support.
She said, “Thank you to all of you that are sharing your stories, and are providing words of wisdom and hope. I have yet to receive a negative comment, only kind and thoughtful words. Lots of love to all of you! Thank you for support and let’s continue to talk about our mental health!”