By Leah Connor
The power of music is both undeniable and scientifically proven. It can help us run faster, reduce pain, increase relaxation, and even save a life.
In 2017, hip hop artist Logic released his powerful song “1-800-273-8255” about suicidal ideation, recovery, and the power of hope. The title comes from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and research recently published in the British Medical Journal indicates the popularity of the song could have saved as many as 245 lives with an increase in call volume to the hotline.
There’s actually a name for the persuasive power of mass media in helping those considering suicide to choose not to complete the final act: the Papageno effect.
Hip hop has a long history of tackling the difficult topic of mental health. In 1982, Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five released “The Message” which vividly describes social injustice and the toll on Black lives:
“It’s like a jungle sometimes it makes me wonder how I keep from going under”
“Don’t push me cause I’m close to the edge, I’m trying not to lose my head”
Research has shown that the number of rap songs referencing mental health conditions doubled from 1998 to 2018. If more songs address the struggles with and treatment of mental disorders such as depression and PTSD, then it’s possible that the stigma and cultural resistance to seeking professional help will change over time.
It’s vitally important for more musicians and artists to be honest about their own experiences with anxiety or suicidal thoughts so that we normalize discussions about mental illness and treatment.
Unfortunately, multiple studies have shown an exponential growth in suicide rates and attempts amongst Black youth, especially girls and the age of those who are dying is getting even younger. One of the most startling statistics of racial disparities is that Black children under 13 die by suicide at almost twice the rate of white children under 13.
We need to reduce the stigma attached to suffering from mental health conditions and the need to seek professional help with or without medication.
Avoiding conversations about the realities of suicide doesn’t prevent it. We need the survivors of suicide (both those who have attempted and those who have lost a loved one due to mental illness) to speak up and help dispel the myths. We need to teach kids coping skills, where to go for help, and examples of overcoming a temporary mental condition or living productive lives with ongoing treatment of mental illness.
Some people think suicide is selfish or that it’s a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Sadly, many of those who die by suicide have lifelong personality disorders or other chronic health conditions (mental or physical) that cannot be cured and require ongoing treatment and medication. It’s impossible to know whether or not someone’s life experiences that lead to suicidal thoughts are just temporary – they could include sexual abuse, poverty, PTSD, obesity, diabetes, or other struggles that are ongoing and possibly never-ending. Rather than judging those who are suffering, let’s support and listen to them.
One tool I find that has helped me and my friends and relatives who suffer from mental illness is to find at least one song that makes you smile, gives you hope, or inspires you to dance and have that song ready for when you need to distract your mind from the negative thoughts - call it your Alive Note. Sometimes I’ll play just one song on repeat for hours if it makes me feel less alone or gets me moving. Exercise is another proven method for improving your physical and mental health so why not combine music with a walk or workout.
Have a purpose for your playlists. I’ve organized songs to help pump me up or to calm me down, songs that help me laugh or make me cry … whatever I need to feel all the feelings.
Some of my faves include “Ladies First” by Queen Latifah & Monie Love (to feel empowered) and “Just Look Up” by Ariana Grande & Kid Cudi (for a laugh!).
Leah Connor has been a lifelong advocate for social justice. She lives in Charlottesville, VA with her identical twin sister, two children, and husband (when he’s not teaching in Wichita!).
Everyone gets the blues on occasion but when your mood affects your ability to function, you may be suffering from clinical depression, a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest.
The term “depression” has become common in mainstream society and may be classified as:
Regardless of your level of depression, it is important to recognize the signs and ask for help to avoid spiraling out of control. Often those with severe depression have trouble doing normal day-to-day activities, and can feel as if life isn't worth living. Depression isn't a sign of weakness nor can you simply "snap out" of it.
An estimated 300 million people worldwide are diagnosed with some level of depression which can occur regardless of age, ethnic background, education, and social position. A family history of mental illness, high stress environments, and drinking or taking drugs while pregnant are some of the known causes of major depression. Other factors may include financial stress, death of a loved one, divorce, abuse, trauma, and a brain imbalance.
Severe Depression Symptoms
Severe depression is a mental illness that can impact productivity, self-esteem and performance. The most noticeable signs are extreme sadness, feelings of hopelessness, loss of interest in activities, excessive mood swings, reckless behavior, isolation, acting out, and suicidal thoughts.
Insomnia along with trouble concentrating can also be signs of depression and leave you feeling both emotionally and physically drained. If you are having trouble sleeping, you may want to try limiting your caffeine to the morning only and take an over the counter sleep aid 30-minutes prior to bedtime. If these natural remedies don’t cure your insomnia, consult with your doctor or a sleep specialist.
Serious Depression Treatment
If you are suffering with severe depression, don’t ignore it. Instead, it is important that you talk to someone about your feelings as soon as possible. If you are not comfortable talking with someone you know, there are many mental health organizations that provide confidential hotlines and peer counseling. You may also want to find a psychiatrist who can provide you with a proper diagnosis and treatment options.
Most healthcare professionals agree that therapy or counseling along with proper medication can be very effective in managing moderate and severe depression. If untreated, depression can lead to other mental health conditions. Along with substance disorders, depression is the most prevalent diagnoses among suicide victims.
If you or a loved one has suicidal thoughts, call 911 or the National Suicide Lifeline at 1-800-TALK (1-800-273-8255) for help.
Please share your insights on depression in the comment section below. You can also connect with us on Facebook and Instagram.
Many of us feel lonely from time to time and these short-term feelings should’t lead to long-term mental health issues. However, the impact of the Coronavirus and the need to self-isolate from family, friends, and others to avoid spreading the virus has been emotionally challenging on all of us --- both mentally and physically.
According to psychologists, loneliness is the state of distress or discomfort that results when one perceives a gap between one’s desires for social connection and the actual experience of it. Even those who are surrounded by others throughout the day can experience feelings of loneliness.
People who live alone or with minimal human contact are more likely to develop a mental health condition, experience cognitive decline, and have shorter life spans. On the other hand, those who are socially connected or part of a community tend to have more moments of happiness and live longer.
Loneliness does not discriminate. It affects people of all ages and both men and women equally. So what can you do if you are experiencing short or long-term feelings of loneliness?
Dr. Vivek Murphy, former U.S. Surgeon General believes that building a sense of community now, even with the constraints of social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic is key to mental wellness. He recommends that we spend some time every day reaching out to people in our lives for just 15 minutes a day
"In the short term, that 15 minutes could have a significant impact on your mood," says Murphy. "When done consistently over time, it can be a lifeline that connects you to the outside world."
To get the full health benefit, Murphy recommends avoiding the desire to multitask when connecting with others and to focus on the interaction.
"One of the greatest gifts we can give other people is the gift of our full attention," notes Murphy. "It's not always what we say. It's about our ability to listen, and that has a powerful impact on our connection."
During the pandemic, mental health experts are encouraging the public to find new ways to feel connected such as joining a local chat group, or starting one yourself. Volunteering is also a good way to stay connected --- whether it’s delivering food to those in need or offering to help a neighbor with yard work while do so at least 6 feet apart.
"Service can be a powerful antidote to loneliness," explains Murphy. "One of the things that's powerful about service is it shifts the focus from us to other people, while reaffirming that we have value to bring to the world."
Speaking of value, you already know how good exercise is for your physical health. But you might be surprised to know that exercise is also good for your mental health. Studies show that exercise can be as effective as talk therapy and medication for treating mild to moderate depression. You can also exercise with a group while social distancing to combat feeling lonely.
Finally, having an animal companion has been scientifically proven reduce loneliness and reduce stress in humans. Along with being man's best friend, dogs are well-known to have multiple mental health benefits including boosting self-esteem and improving social connections. However, before you decide to get a dog, you should consider other animal companions based on your living situation, work life, and financial resources. Cats, rabbits, birds, and hamsters are also known for providing companionship, lowering blood pressure, stress and anxiety.
If you are struggling with a mental health condition please talk to a friend or mental health professional. There is no shame in mental illness. To hear others talk about their own experiences with mental illness, check out our podcast, Speaking Candidly with Candace here on our website, and every other Wednesday on Google and Apple podcasts.