Countless people we meet throughout our lives seem to find comfort in music.
Throughout time and across genres, music has widely been argued to be a crucial outlet for those that need to channel anything they feel needs expressing.
‘Punk’ is considered to be an expressive genre which encourages the notions of freedom and individual expression. Over the years it has built a community of like-minded people that share an unwillingness to conform to social moulds and expectations. As a result of this, identifying as ‘punk’ can be very liberating yet despite this, no one is immune to the devastating impact mental illness can have.
I wanted to cover the subject of mental health as I know it is close to so many people’s hearts. More specifically, I wanted to focus on mental health in the punk community itself.
To do this, I asked a handful of musicians in the punk community that have suffered mentally themselves. Firstly, to highlight people’s similar and different experiences, secondly, to explore the role music and community have played and thirdly, to give a platform for people to speak and be heard.
Q. Do you think being a musician and/or having an involvement in music has helped you and your mental health? Please explain.
Luke (Drums – Angry Itch): “Yes, it has definitely helped me. It’s given me a focus; a sense of self-worth that at more than one point seemed like an impossibility. It’s allowed me to feel useful in a way that’s been positive both in the way I see myself, and how I act and react in social situations. I’d probably say that having music play such a prominent role in my life, is now just as important as anything else to me. I’ve got a few coping mechanisms, but music is by far the healthiest and most beneficial”.
Emma O (Vox/Drums – Witches Mark): “I’m very lucky to be a musician. It’s ALL I wanted to do since a very young age. It can be a double edged sword though. I get anxiety and the bouts that hit recently before a gig were HUGE, I’d never known that before… But ultimately making some music, listening to music, learning and talking about music can be a life saver”.
Scott (Drums – Johnny and the Mental Breakdowns): “Without a shadow of a doubt. Music is so many things to me; it’s an outlet for all kinds of emotions, it’s focus and a distraction from negative thoughts, it gives me goals and aims where all other hope seems gone, and on top of that it’s a reliable shoulder to lean on. It never lets me down”.
Emma W (Drums – Pretty Pistol): “Yes, 100%. Being a musician and performing on stage can be empowering and give you more confidence. Although it’s sounds cheesy, I’ve felt a sense of belonging in the rock community. Despite appearances, punks are some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met”.
Q. Has punk music and the punk community helped you and your mental health? Please explain.
Luke: “Undoubtedly. The people I’ve met in the punk community are some of the most understanding, compassionate individuals I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. There is rarely any shortage of advice or support, and I’ve found that whenever I’ve managed to feel comfortable, and built up my nerve to unload, there’s always been an ear at hand. It is easily the most inclusive and open community I’ve come across”.
Emma O: “Punk music kept me alive when I was a teenager. I had a tough upbringing in certain aspects and bands like Rancid, Hole & Nirvana made it easier. Rancid especially. That band was the soundtrack to my teen years. Then I got to play punk rock and I realised ultimate freedom. The absolute truth that no-one can tell you what to do on the stage. Again, it was a doubled edged sword but I wouldn’t change it for the world. The punk rock community I know have 100% supported me. Hardcore bands in Nottingham and beyond have had my back 100% and that is special. It’s not always the case but I feel being in punk rock means you’re attune to honestly and that’s pretty special too”.
Scott: “The Punk community is my therapy/therapists. The people I’ve encountered within it have been some of the most open-minded, reliable, accepting and welcoming that I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet and I’ve discovered a sense of belonging within it. It’s family, and that’s what EVERYONE needs”.
Emma W: “I wouldn’t say that the punk community has directly helped my mental health, but there are a lot of inspiring figures in the scene that have spoken up about mental health and made it more acceptable to talk about”.
Q. What bands or songs have helped you/still help you? Why?
Luke: “Bands like Wonk Unit have really helped. I find they are a great representation of life, jumping between brutally frank poems and bouncy melodies. They can make me feel sad and smile at the same time, helping to embrace the silly and serious in equal measure. Life is mental and ridiculous, and trying to tell yourself otherwise only acts like a sort of emotional procrastination”.
Emma O: “I can’t list them all but they know who they are. I’m lucky enough to have some serious punk rock players see me as a contemporary and that’s incredible. And sometimes, in my darkest times, I’m reminded of that and it’s so helpful”.
Scott: “Firstly I’d have to say my own band! I’m not just saying it (that would be some pretty perverse self-promotion in an article about mental health), but there are a couple of songs of ours which can be interpreted in more than one way, and to me they remind me that I’m not alone in experiencing mental health issues. Being in a band with someone who also shares these experiences means that we can express that together as a combined force. See! We don’t just sing about beer and drugs dealers! Haha! Other than that it’s a tricky question because if I listen to something introspective or contemplative it can make things worse and in a depressive state I don’t want to listen to anything upbeat… I can’t. If I’m REALLY bad I can’t listen to music at all which is a real signal that I’m feeling at my lowest”.
Emma W: “This might sound really egocentric, but playing drums in Pretty Pistol, and performing our own music live on stage has been very therapeutic for me! I hit the drums hard, and for me, it’s a stress relief and endorphin booster. Other than Pretty Pistol, the music of so many great bands, like KidBrother, Gender Roles and Don’t Worry have been important in breaking boundaries and talking positively about mental health”.
Q. Do you have any advice or words of encouragement for anyone that may be suffering?
Luke: “One of the most frustrating things I’ve heard throughout the years is “it’s easy to talk, people are here”. No it’s not. It’s one the hardest things to do, reach out and ask for help, no matter how accommodating other people can be. I’ve found that writing, even without purpose, has had a great impact on me. Whether it’s thoughts, lyrics or even just doodles, it allowed me to unload without having to feel like a burden or an inconvenience, and being able to put form to my thoughts helped me to accept them and actually face what it was I was dealing with. Also, as a drummer, I can tell you there a few things more cathartic than beating the ever-loving piss out of a drum kit when it feels like you’ve been hitting a brick wall yourself”.
Emma O: “Yes. It’s not permanent so don’t go looking for permanent solutions. The feelings of dread, hurt and pain will go. It’s up and down, it’s rock and roll and it’s okay to ask for help. It’s so hard to put on a brave face because your feelings of lonliness can make you feel isolated. Everyone’s struggle is different and it’s scary at first but talk to people. You will be surprised that you’re not the only one struggling. Have some love and compassion towards yourself. Those voices in your head, your negative narrative, may tell you that you don’t deserve it but you do! More than anyone else! You got this far and you rule! And never be scared to help someone who needs it but you need to remember not all help is a soft cushion! It can be a hard wake-up call! But trust me, you will be okay. Keep going. You are more than worth it”.
Scott: “TALK, TALK, TALK. It’s not easy to do, but anyone reading this who hasn’t yet been open about it yet, I encourage you wholeheartedly to talk about it to anyone who you feel comfortable with. It could be a family member, a friend or a health professional, but once you do it you’ll see how many people understand and have or do suffer. Remember it’s an illness and needs the right treatment. Also never EVER blame yourself or feel guilty, be open to medication but be sensible. Listen to your doctor but also to your own mind and body – it doesn’t work for everyone but may work for you. It’s important to know yourself and recognise your feelings, it can be an invaluable way of getting ahead of negative feelings before they start and may even help you to counter them”.
Emma W: “Yes. Talk to someone you trust about it. Seek help and don’t feel embarrassed about your mental health, it’s as important as your physical health! You wouldn’t leave a broken leg to heal by itself without going to see a doctor, so don’t leave depression, anxiety or other mental health issues to get worse. Also, it can and will get better, you just need to take that first step into recovery”.
It is evident from these responses that mental health is personal and different for everyone however despite these differences, there appears to be a commonality and shared understanding regarding the role of music for those that do sufferer. It also confirms that the music community itself (more specifically – the punk community), really can be a valued place all-round to connect, comfort, inspire and motivate people.
Remember, as rebellious as individuals may be and as strong as people may appear; we are all human. We can all suffer.
Be there for your friends and even strangers, too. Look after each other. Always try to be kind because you don’t always know what someone else is going through.
I would like to thank the four incredible musicians that have shared their experiences and thoughts regarding this meaningful topic. It is so important that we continue talking about mental health anywhere and everywhere we can, especially in our music community.
The most important thing to remember for sufferers is that you are never alone.
Punk hearts hurt too.