FEATURE: Taking Its Toll: Changing the Conversation Regarding Mental Illness




Taking Its Toll

PHOTO CREDIT: @daanmooij/Unsplash 

Changing the Conversation Regarding Mental Illness


EVERY time we hear about a much-loved artist...


 IN THIS PHOTO: The Prodigy’’s Keith Flint

taking their own life or suffering from serious mental-health issues, it always hits me and it is hard to get over. Today, we heard the news about The Prodigy’s Keith Flint – the cause of death was confirmed, by his bandmates, as suicide. I am not sure as to the exact details or why he took his life but very few who knew Flint would have expected this to happen. Whether his death was the culmination of a tough time and a lot of stress or the result of years of emotional ill health, we might never truly know. Flint, aged only forty-nine, was touring with The Prodigy as recently as last year and it seemed like they were hitting a new stride. Tragically, Glastonbury organiser Emily Eavis confirmed the band were booked to play this year so it all looked pretty rosy and promising. I have been following the music of The Prodigy since their album, Music for the Jilted Generation, arrived in 1994. When The Fat of the Land came out in 1997, the incredible power and voice of Keith Flint gave the music new life and crossover appeal – taking the music to the masses and getting new ears interested in Trance and Electronic music. Great charities like the Samartians do great work and I have seen a lot of messages on social media posting their contact details. It might seem rather easy to call them and feel better and, whilst they do great work, there are many great people losing their lives because they feel helpless.

If anyone does feel low or suicidal, they must absolutely reach out and talk. Whether that is their families or a helpline, it is never a great idea keeping things bottled in. I can relate to the struggles artists like Keith Flint face and, whilst our experiences are different, I know it can be hard seeing the light and feeling like there is a happy place waiting – the darkest thoughts do creep up and all can seem hopeless. The fact Flint has legions of fans and is an icon would have been known and, when it comes to those who met him, everyone can attest to how personable and lovely he was. It is never easy knowing what is happening in someone’s head and what happens behind closed doors. Whether Flint was feeling strain about The Prodigy’s work schedule or he felt in a particularly bleak place, we have lost someone loved by many; a singer and human who changed music and, in a short life, managed to bring these wonderful moments to people – that have shaped lives and made us all happier and better. I hear a lot of musicians suffer from mental illness and post tweets regarding their state of mind. A lot of these communications are quite upsetting and I do wonder whether the fatalities will rise and we will lose more artists.

 IN THIS PHOTO: Chris Cornell/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

I remember when I heard the news about Chris Cornell’s suicide in 2017 and feeling instantly numb. The Soundgarden frontman (he was also a member of Audioslave and Temple of the Dog) took his own life in a hotel bathroom after a concert. Nobody saw that coming and, whilst there have been explanations – one is that he was over-prescribed medication for anxiety – we may truly never know why he killed himself. There have been, in my mind, too many suicides in music and drug overdoses that have led to premature deaths. The more time that goes on, the more we are all seeing self-destruction and a rise in mental-health issues. If any good can come from the tragic news we heard today it is that something this big can be sobering and lead us to look at our lives and try and embrace something positive. Many, of course, all around the world are suffering and I shudder to think how many artists are in such a horrible place where they see suicide as their only option. Even if a musician is self-harming or suffering anxiety, it is very harrowing and not something any of us want to see. There are organisations such as Help Musicians UK and CALM who do fine work and are well worth exploring if you are feeling low or suicidal. I think modern society is one where more of us are communicating with more people – if you see what I mean – are we are opening our horizons.

We might have loads of followers online and share messages but do we know many of the people we are communicating with?! Are we actually using technology as our way of communicating and not doing it in a human and face-to-face form? Our lives are all so busy and it seems the Internet, more and more, offers this fast and easy way of getting to know people and conducting our business. Many of have our heads buried in laptops and Smartphones and it gives us very little time to unwind and actually get out. This can cause huge anxiety problems and a rise in mental-health worries. The burden placed on health services is enormous and the Government, whilst they have pledged more money to tackling it, are not putting the subject as high up the priority list as they should. How many people does it take to open eyes and get real change happening?! I know the solution is complex and there is no easy fix but it seems many people feel unable to talk about their mental-health or feel they are not in a position to make things better. Even though we have to deal with heartbreaking stories like Keith Flint’s suicide it seems, at least, there is a decline in suicide rates around the country. This report from last year laid out new figures:

Suicide rates among men in the UK are at their lowest for more than 30 years, official figures show.

In 2017, there were 4,383 male suicides and the rate was 15.5 per 100,000 men - down from 20 in the late 1980s, data from the Office for National Statistics reveals...


PHOTO CREDIT: @samr1os_official/Unsplash 

Although the male rate is falling, men still account for three-quarters of suicides in the UK.

The Samaritans said recent efforts to prevent suicides had helped.

The female suicide rate has remained stable for the past 10 years.

'Reducing stigma’

Ruth Sutherland, head of the Samaritans charity, said the figures were "encouraging" but "every death was still one too many".

"We believe that the focus in recent years on suicide prevention to tackle the higher rates in men has contributed to this," she said.

"Added to this, reducing stigma around men's mental health and encouraging men to open up and seek help when they are struggling has been beneficial".

It is good there is a drop in suicide rates but we still have a big problem regarding the mental-health crisis in the U.K. In music, I think there are different pressures and very few artists get much time to relax and detach. From established artists like Keith Flint through to newcomers, there is this need to always be ‘on’. The nature of modern music means so many artists spend most of their lives promoting and working; they get less sleep than they should and touring commitments can leave them drained. I know Keith Flint loved what he did but one wonders how busy and packed his life was; whether he was ever capable of getting time to himself and recharge. We will, as I say, not know why he took his life but I worry there is this burden being placed on artists.


 PHOTO CREDIT: @studiomedia/Unsplash

I fear social media makes us less social and, a lot of the time, we are shutting ourselves away or feel like there are few people out there who can understand us and we can reach out to. The solutions to tragic suicides is not simple but I think we need to look at the music industry and why a lot of artists are suffering from the black dog of mental illness. There are very few fundraisers and event that shine a light on mental illness. I think a lot of artists get into this cycle of working endlessly and having pressure on their shoulder. There is this expectation to be someone quite big and brave on the stage and in the studio and, when alone, the artist experiences a different reality. It can be tough revealing to people – family or strangers – that things are bad or we are not coping. Even if general rates of suicide if men are declining, I am seeing far too many posts from artists who are experiencing really bleak and disturbing moods. I have seen many comments reacting to Keith Flint’s death and revealing their own struggles. I do feel we have come say way regarding mental-illness and how it is discussed but so many, myself included, feel uneasy talking about it and being honest – and is social media the best platform and most effective way of finding help?!

We all struggle in life but I think there is this culture to sort of bury things or try and carry on. Maybe it is the way we try and cope but more money and time needs to be put into mental-health charities and the music industry needs to react. Each time an artist as beloved as Keith Flint departs and we are blind-sided, it makes me angry that they had to face what they faced and feel the way they did at the end of their lives. Perhaps it is time for labels, managers and bodies to intervene and monitor their talent. Perhaps it is time to give artists a break and make sure we are not pushing them too hard. Even if someone is putting on a brave face, you never know how they are feeling inside and it can be hard getting that conversation started. It has been a tough and bleak day but I hope something positive can come from it. I am already seeing people connect with strangers and talk about their lives and situation; how they have felt low and, on a positive note, how wonderful and life-affirming the music of Keith Flint/The Prodigy is. We go to bed tonight having lost an icon of music but I hope the discussion opens and many artists suffering from mental illness feel like they need to speak out and talk. If we can prevent another suicide or make someone feel like they will be heard and are confident talking about their struggle then that is wonderful. We are seeing slight improvements regarding suicide statistics but I feel, when it comes to huge change and ensuring artists around the world are protected and do not succumb to the worst side-effects of mental illness, we have...


PHOTO CREDIT: @ernest_brillo/Unsplash

A bit of a way to go.