We’re Not Alone: Musicians Who’ve Battled Mental Illness

I guess it’s romantic in a way, to think that mental illness is attached with creative people. Even a study by J Phillippe Rushton, a Canadian psychology prof, found creativity to correlate with intelligence and psychoticism.

Others believe there’s no link, whatsoever. “There is no link between creativity and mental illness,” Dr. R. Keith Sawyer wrote in an article for the Huffington Post. “Creative people are not more likely to be diagnosed with mental illness, and mentally ill people are not more likely to be creative than normal people.”

Either way, it’s nice to know that you’re not alone. An illness like depression, could get very lonely, and it’s a silent victory of sorts when you find out that others like family members, friends, or artists that you idolize, are right there with you.

We formed a connection with Brian Wilson when we watched Love & Mercy. We understood Kurt after we watched Cobain: Montage of Heck.  There’s even Eric Clapton, with whom we’ve shared an unknowing connection.

“I thought there was something otherworldly about the whole culture of drinking, that being drunk made me a member of some strange, mysterious club,” Clapton told Today. “The stuff that happened to me as a child made me totally insular — I thought I could do all of this on my own. It wasn’t until I was quite a bit older that I finally did ask for help.” Which he did. He’s been sober since 1989.

Mental illness can be hidden, by most. But for musicians, the illness tends to show in their work. Like Brian Wilson’s work with The Beach Boys, or Pink Floyd’s Syd Barrett’s problems that had a profound impact on Roger Waters’ songwriting. Dark Side of the Moon had a theme of mental illness, referring to Barrett’s bipolar disorder and  rumoured schizophrenia. “In my opinion, [his breakdown] would have happened anyway,” said David Gilmour, who stepped in as Pink Floyd’s guitarist after Barrett’s departure. “It was a deep-rooted thing. But I’ll say the psychedelic experience might well have acted as a catalyst. Still, I just don’t think he could deal with the vision of success and all the things that went with it.”

 Then, we had Kurt.

“Kurt was diagnosed at a young age with Attention Deficit Disorder [ADD], then later with bipolar disorder [also known as manic-depression],” Kurt’s mom, Bev Cobain revealed  in an interview. “Bipolar illness has the same characteristics as major clinical depression, but with mood swings, which present as rage, euphoria, high energy, irritability, distractibility, overconfidence, and other symptoms. As Kurt undoubtedly knew, bipolar illness can be very difficult to manage, and the correct diagnosis is crucial. Unfortunately for Kurt, compliance with the appropriate treatment is also a critical factor.”

Stress and fame play parts in mental mayhem. Enter Ian Curtis. Just as his group, Joy Division gained notoriety, Curtis sank deep into depression. The fact that he was going through a divorce and just got diagnosed with epilepsy, didn’t help, either. Curtis committed suicide just as the band was about to embark on their first North American tour. He was just 24 years old.

The important thing to know is that we’re not alone. Even super rock stars suffer from some type of mental illness. The more important thing to know is that people are out there to help. Addiction services, or places like The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) which is the largest mental health and addiction teaching hospital in Canada, are wonderful places to source help.

Here are some links to people who are there to help: 

CAMH – Centre for Addiction and Mental Health

Canadian Mental Health Association 

CASP –  Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention

The Lifeline Canada 

You’re not in this alone. Really.

Liked it? Take a second to support Shane Alexander on Patreon!

Leave a Comment