That got me thinking about how we represent mental illness in music.
First off, let me climb onto my soap box. We, as a society, have a terrible stigma when it comes to mental illnesses. And yet, mental illnesses are like any other illnesses. Most have a physical cause, such as a chemical imbalance that can be helped with medication.
I have high blood pressure caused by my kidney condition. I have been taking medication for almost 25 years to keep my blood pressure under control. Every so often, the numbers begin to creep up. This is the cue that it’s time to tweak my medications. Or, over time, I can build up a resistance to one medication or develop a reaction to another. Each time, it can take a bit of time to find the right mix of medications to bring my blood pressure back under control.
Many mental illnesses are the same as my blood pressure: controllable by medications, but it may take some time to find the right mix. Often, weekly therapy can be a part of that mix when something more than just medications is needed. There is nothing wrong with needing therapy to keep functioning. I have been in and out of therapy since I was 9. When I was a little girl, to be honest, it was my mother who needed therapy and not me. But I have since realized that a part of her illness was an inability to recognize that there was something wrong with her and not with me or the rest of the world. This inability to see your own illness is called asognosia and is not uncommon.
It is time to take away the stigma and the shame and focus on everyone living their lives as best they can without fear. The Arts can be a welcome outlet and can help change people’s misconceptions about mental illnesses. Music should be at the forefront of this fight. Is it?
The two songs I mentioned at the beginning of this blog are older. “Gloria” is from 1982 and “Delta Dawn” was a hit in 1972 for Tanya Tucker on the Country charts and again for Helen Reddy in 1973 on the Pop charts. But there are others. 1966 brought us the very popular “They’re Coming to Take Me Away.” A quick search has shown me that several songs by The Ramones, Ozzy Osborne, Aerosmith, and many, many others deal with mental health.
Just pouring through what’s out there is enough to bring on a bout of depression. And before we go on, yes, I do suffer from depression and PTSD. The depression is the result of chemical imbalances in my brain. I do take medication every day for that as well as for my blood pressure. The PTSD is the result of trauma caused by my mother and my first husband. So, I’m not just saying that. The amount of songs that deal with mental illness are staggering – and I ruled out all the crazy-in-love types.
I’ve written before about the power of words: how our words matter. They can hurt and they can heal. I try to not use the words crazy or insane anymore. Occasionally one will slip out, but it’s a work in process.
We, as a society, can do better.
I’ll very carefully climb off that soapbox now. (I am afraid of heights.)