A Storm in Every Season
IN THIS PHOTO: Willow Smith/ALL PHOTOS (unless credited otherwise): Getty Images/Press
How Willow Smith’s Confession of Self-Harm Should Give Strength to Others
AS this is Mental Health Awareness Week…
I am exploring a few different sides of mental-health and trying to provide inspiration. I have already covered exercise and physical activity’s role in lifting the mood/creativity; I have compiled an inspirational (I hope) playlist and will, if I find enough time in the schedule, look at discussion...and the ways of making it easier to open up regarding mental illness. A story caught my mind that, to be fair, is common to a lot of people. We have seen musicians talk about self-harm but, for the most part, we absorb yourself in the event and then move on. Maybe it is the timeliness of the revelation, but Willow Smith – the teenage daughter of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith – has spoken about the fame she accrued following the release of Whip My Hair (back in 2010) and the pressure on her shoulders. She is still only seventeen and so, at such a young age, that sort of focus and pressure, invariably, took its toll. Smith spoke about living in a famous household and having well-known parents. There was that press attention and the expectation to follow such a hit single. Whilst many might assume someone who has wealthy parents should not feel any pressure and has no right to complain; Willow Smith spoke about the transition and disruption in her life – acclimatising to this new world and trying to mix her normal existence with one that included high-profile interviews and huge gigs.
Quoting from NME they have covered the story/Smith’s interview and why she has decided to go public with her admissions of self-harm:
“Speaking on Red Table Talk with her mother, she spoke about how the pressures of fame at such a young age pushed her to extremes.
“It was after that whole ‘Whip My Hair’ thing and I had just stopped doing singing lessons and I was kind of just in this grey area of, ‘Who am I? Do I have a purpose? Is there anything I can do besides this?’,” she said.
Willow continued: “After the tour and the promotion and all of that, they wanted me to finish my album. And I was like, I’m not gonna do that. And after all of that kinda settled down and it was like a kind of lull.” Explaining why she turned to self-harm, she said: “I honestly felt like I was experiencing so much emotional pain but my physical circumstances weren’t reflecting that.”
“A lot of adolescent girls struggle with self-harm.”
Willow added that she didn’t tell her family about what she was going through, and that only one of her friends knew that she was self-harming.
“I never talk about it because it was such a short, weird point in my life. But you have to pull yourself out of it,” she said.
“One night I was like, ‘This is actually psychotic’. And I just stopped”.
Whilst it is heartbreaking to hear of Smith’s struggle; it seems she is on a safer footing and is looking ahead to the future. Maybe there is less spotlight on her following her debut single – she is an older artist and, even at seventeen, a big music career is seen as normal and routine now. Maybe it was a lot to ask of her at nine years old; taking on all that responsibility and being thrust into a strange and frightening world. It is the way Smith, and so many of her peers, have dealt with that pressure that struck me. Willow Smith is not the only musician who has elevated the stress and anxiety of a busy career with self-harm and physical mutilation. There are many out there who do it routinely; artists like Demi Lovato, Sid Vicious and Richey Edwards – a broad and varied list, I know! – have coped with struggle and stress with self-harm. So too has Courtney Love, Amy Winehouse and Paris Jackson (the daughter of Michael Jackson). I have not written this piece to highlight Smith as a tragic case or someone who outranks anyone else. The reason I have written this is to congratulate her, and other artists, who come out and reveal such harrowing visions. She is not the first musician to talk about self-harm but the candid and human way Smith opened up should give guidance and courage to many.
PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash
I am not suggesting every artist and musical creative who suffers self-harm should jump the media and embark on a lengthy social media post – self-harm is very private and emotional; it is understandable many would want to keep that information confidential. Smith, as a teenager, has the pressures of school and growing up. She has celebrity parents which, whilst it has benefits, puts an expectation on her back and everyone will associate her with mum and dad, Jada and Wil!. Not that she is living in their shadows or hanging on their apron strings: she has her own career and sibling, Jaden, who is an actor – experiencing the same sort of attention his sister does. A lot of the time, we buy music and go to gigs without realising what an artist does away from the stage. We have seen the suicide of some big names in recent years; one, sadly, as recently as a week ago. People do not go from suicidal without experiencing self-harm and some lower-level form of abuse. It is hard to open up and, for musicians, there is a public image and two sides: the persona and human we see in print/on record and the real human who everyone else sees. That compartmentalisation and separation is not only isolating and confusing but harrowing and exhausting. I can only imagine how someone like Willow Smith must have felt going from a young girl at school to an (almost) overnight Popstar.
PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash
I am glad she has come through the worst and did not, as far as I know, get to the point of contemplating suicide. She has many teenage fans and girls/boys who look up to her. It would have been easy to remain quiet and put on a façade. Those who do should not be condemned or forced to talk. The fact Willow Smith has will help many and reveals the pressure we put on young artists and musicians in general. It is a week where mental-health gets a rare time to shine and provoke conversation. My great fear is that, as early as next week, the bunting will be down and all the symposiums, forums and articles floating around online will be consigned to archiving. We have to wait another year for more discussion and a chance to put mental illness out to the world. There have been so many positive and informative pieces put out; so many have shared their stories online and someone, somewhere will take inspiration and change their life. It is hard to quantify how many people will be saved and seek help based on the information coming out this week. I wanted to focus on Willow Smith and her story because that, I hope, will give other artists the courage to break a wall and tell their tale. Self-harm is a complex and upsetting reality for many; it is really hard taking that step and opening up.
IN THIS PHOTO: Demi Lovato (who has spoken about her battle with self-harm)
That is not to say, too, that celebrities exposing their worst moments cheapens the severity of self-harm and distracts from the thousands of non-famous sufferers who are unable to find light and reticent about talking to anyone. There are many great mental-health charities but I want to, again, put the Samaritans’ contact details into the ether for anyone who thinks they might be suffering mental illness. I said the subject of self-harm was complex…it very much is. One might self-harm because of pressures at home or broken relationships; stress at work or an exacerbation of depression. There are countless combinations and reasons why an individual would let their tension out in such a way. Having someone famous/well-known step-up and talk about their demons is empowering and, as I also said, will provide comfort to many – showing famous artists are the same as everyday humans. I want this week to lead to change and continued conversation where mental-health is given as much prominence as any other illness. One need only look at the posts on social media and realise the personal and affecting stories of those afflicted by mental illness are not isolated. The issue is growing and we need to oxidise the ever-growing beast of mental ill health. Music is one of those industries that is especially prone to those who suffer psychological issues.
Willow Smith is one of many musicians who, over the years, have told about their struggles with self-harm. I hope her revelation and backstory stays out there because there are many who will be going through the same emotions – whilst the reasons for self-harming are not the same – and require that comfort and guidance. We have seen Willow Smith speak but I wonder whether her, and many other people’s, story will lead to more funding – both here and in the U.S. The NHS is stretched to the limits and I wonder how our Government will adapt to the growing wave of mental illness; a problem that is raging like wildfire. I feel big names talking about mental illness/self-harm are taking big risks. They have record labels (many do) and there is a certain ‘box’ they need to fit into – the commercial risk of talking about mental illness could cost more than money and dropped sales. Instead, more conversations will flare and others, in time, will feel less stigmatised regarding the weighty conversation of self-harm and mental-health. I hope those afflicted by dark thoughts and self-harm will find some light and relatability in Smith’s words – and her musician peers who have had to hide their issues and felt afraid to come forward. It is a nightmare and horrible situation when you are moved to the point of cutting yourself and having to keep that secret. Whilst talking about it might seem embarrassing or upsetting; doing so, to a family member or a profession, is…
PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash
A very big and brave step.