Mental health is a major theme in a lot of art today, particularly music.
As our society continues to break down the stigma around talking about struggles, many public figures are sharing their experiences with issues like depression, anxiety and grief. For musicians, this conversation takes place not only in interviews, but in their songs as well.
To help foster awareness and acceptance of mental health, we’ve rounded up 16 songs with lyrics about topics like therapy, depression, anxiety and more.
“Now I’m In It” by Haim
Lead singer Danielle Haim described “Now I’m In It” as a song about “going through it” and opened up about her experience with depression.
“For my sisters and I, there have been times in our lives where we have felt like we are stuck in a dark hole,” she wrote in a series of tweets about the song. “Every time I’ve been depressed — it takes me accepting that I need help, to start to get out of it. It’s gotten a little easier as I have gotten older to recognize the symptoms and remind myself that when this happens, I need to seek help. (shout out to my therapist!!) Anyway, we all know it’s important to talk about this stuff.”
“Hunger” by Florence + The Machine
“At 17, I started to starve myself” begins Florence Welch’s song about her struggle with an eating disorder and other mental health issues.
“I learned ways to manage that terror — drink, drugs, controlling food. It was like a renaissance of childhood, a toddler’s self-destruction let loose in a person with grown-up impulses,” Welch told The Guardian.
“1-800-273-8255” by Logic featuring Alessia Cara and Khalid
The title of this track is the phone number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and takes the perspective of someone contemplating suicide. In a 2017 interview with Genius, Logic spoke about the background for the song.
“[Fans have] said things like, ‘Your music has saved my life. You’ve saved my life.’ And I was always like, ‘Aw so nice of you. Thanks.’ And I give them a hug and shit but in my mind, I’m like, ‘What the fuck?'” he said. “And they’re really serious. And they like tat shit on their arms and get shit like lyrics that save their life and in my mind, I was like, ‘Man I wasn’t even trying to save nobody’s life.’ And then it hit me, the power that I have as an artist with a voice. I wasn’t even trying to save your life. Now what can happen if I actually did?”
“Help!” by The Beatles
Reflecting on the period of his life when he wrote “Help!”, John Lennon reportedly said, “I was fat and depressed, and I was crying out for help.”
In 2015, Paul McCartney shared his take on the song and Lennon’s mental health: “He didn’t say, ‘I’m now fat and I’m feeling miserable.’ He said, ‘When I was younger, so much younger than today.’ In other words, he blustered his way through. We all felt the same way. But looking back on it, John was always looking for help. He had [a paranoia] that people died when he was around: His father left home when John was 3, the uncle he lived with died later, then his mother died. I think John’s whole life was a cry for help.”
“Life” by Ivy Sole featuring Dave B
“I think my mental health often makes me feel despair even when there is light and love around me. But being able to see through the fog of depression and anxiety is something so invaluable to me,” Ivy Sole said in a press release for her song “Life.”
According to the artist, the song was inspired by a friend who died by suicide and aims to uplift people who are dealing with mental health issues.
“Breathe Me” by Sia
In a video about the making of her album “Colour the Small One,” Sia described the song “Breathe Me” as a look at difficult emotional experiences like anxiety.
“‘Breathe Me’ is about feeling worried, generally anxious. Being overwhelmed by your own inner dialogue and having some sort of conniption fit and potentially doing yourself some harm, then asking for help,” she said.
“Rose-Colored Boy” by Paramore
Paramore has addressed mental health issues in many of their songs. “Rose-Colored Boy” specifically looks at the stigma around depression and other related issues.
The band tweeted about the meaning of the song shortly after its release in 2018: “‘Rose-Colored Boy’ is a song about feeling pressured to look at the world with blind optimism when you actually feel very hopeless about the world & your part in it. there is so much social pressure to be (or appear to be) ‘happy’ that we can actually feel shame when we aren’t. Adding shame to sadness is a pretty toxic cocktail. It’s hard enough to deal with sadness, depression, or any type of anxiety without the added societal expectations. It’s important & more healing to meet ppl where they’re at – EMPATHY – than to try & paint everything rosy.”
“24/7” by Kehlani
“It’s OK to not be OK,” begins Kehlani’s empowering 2016 single “24/7.” The singer has been open about her mental health experiences , which reportedly led to her hospitalization earlier that same year.
“24/7” features a number of personal lyrics like “I had my nights where I’m not anxious to wake up and feel any better.”
“Good Grief” by Bastille
As the title suggests, Bastille’s “Good Grief” is about loss and grieving and the many emotions that accompany that experience.
Lead vocalist Dan Smith described the meaning to iHeartRadio: “It’s just about trying to capture this messy, complicated process of any kind of loss, and through any process when you’re just getting on with your life. There can be moments of huge highs and lows. It’s just trying to find a route out the other end, and get some optimism and the contrast between euphoria and despair and trying to find a middle ground.”
“Skyscraper” by Demi Lovato
Demi Lovato has said she felt very “emotionally attached” to her powerful ballad “Skyscraper,” which speaks to the experience of facing difficult times and getting through it. The singer, who is also a mental health advocate, released the song after spending time in a treatment facility for “emotional and physical issues,” including an eating disorder.
In a 2011 interview, she described the experience of recording “Skyscraper” before and after her treatment: “I was emotionally attached to the song and I really related to it, like a lot of other people. … for me when I first recorded it, it was kind of a cry for help. It was before I went to treatment, before everything had kind of hit the fan. I went to treatment and I came out, then I tried to rerecord ‘Skyscraper’ because my voice had changed and it just wasn’t the same. There was something in that first try, that first run through of the song that was kind of magical. It was so much emotion in it, and to this day, it’s still really special to me. I’ve never been so vulnerable or emotional while recording a song, to the point where I was almost doubled over in tears in the studio. I was crying when I recorded it, I was bawling my eyes out. I don’t know, it just felt really great to open up like that.”
“Light Years” by The National
Aaron Dessner of The National told Pitchfork in 2019 that “Light Years” was inspired by his experience with grief and loss.
“That song was connected to grief. I wrote the music after my wife’s mother had been diagnosed with cancer,” he explained. “She was in a very swift decline, so we moved to Denmark [to be with her].”
“Smile” by Jay-Z featuring Gloria Carter
Jay-Z’s “Smile” covers a number of big topics like sexuality, being black in America and mental health. Notably, the song helps shatter the stigma around going to therapy, as he raps, “My therapist said I relapsed.”
Jay-Z has publicly advocated for therapy in interviews as well. “I grew so much from the experience,” he told The New York Times in 2017. “But I think the most important thing I got is that everything is connected. Every emotion is connected and it comes from somewhere. And just being aware of it. Being aware of it in everyday life puts you at such a … you’re at such an advantage. “
“Anxiety” by Julia Michaels featuring Selena Gomez
“This song is extremely close to my heart as I’ve experienced anxiety and know a lot of my friends do too. You’re never alone if you feel this way,” Selena Gomez wrote in an Instagram caption on the release of her mental health-focused song with Julia Michaels.
Michaels shared some background on the song in a radio interview: “I was like, ‘I think it’d be really awesome to have a song with two women on it that struggle with the same thing, that are talking about something other than two women fighting for a guy’s attention, or something like that. It’s almost like a female empowerment song without it being a female empowerment song.”
“Unwell” by Matchbox Twenty
Lead singer Rob Thomas said in a Genius interview that the lyrics of “Unwell” were inspired by personal struggles with insecurity and discomfort that even lead to panic attacks.
“It came from the idea of still not feeling comfortable in my own skin, and the job sometimes even less so. I was always very comfortable in small groups, and I was always very comfortable on a stage. And then never comfortable in the group,” he said. “You’d do things where you’re out and amongst, and I was never really comfortable. That led me to having really crazy panic attacks and having to figure out a way to get all of that under control. Once I started to get older, once I started to grow up, the fabrication that I’d made of how comfortable I was and how secure I was in myself started to go away. I was left with the reality I need to deal with how uncomfortable I am at all times, how unsure of myself I am, every word that comes out of my mouth, in every situation. ‘Unwell’ was the beginning of that for me.”
“Pennyroyal Tea” by Nirvana
Kurt Cobain said in a 1993 interview with Impact that “Pennyroyal Tea” is about dealing with severe depression and how it feels.
“Breathin” by Ariana Grande
Appearing on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” Ariana Grande shared the meaning of her song “Breathin.”
“‘Breathin’ is about breathing…when you’re anxious. It’s about anxiety and feeling like you can’t get a full breath. It’s like the worst feeling in the whole world. It’s a song about that feeling…I was having lots of [anxiety attacks]. We were in the studio, we were writing and I was like, ‘Ugh I can’t breathe.’ And they were like, ‘We’re going to write this song.’ And I was like, ‘Okay, I still can’t breathe, but we’ll write it.'”
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