Depression sucks. Plain and simple. At the risk of trying to come across as an expert on the subject, I’ll share a few statistics and direct you to this link , this one, and this last one for a more in-depth look at just how many people depression in all its forms affects. Roughly 9% of Americans suffer from some variation of depression, with major depressive disorder being the top cause of disability for 15 – 44 years olds, affecting almost 15 million Americans yearly. The most alarming statistic I came across is that though roughly 1 in 10 Americans suffer from sort of depression, only 20% of those with symptoms actually receive treatment for it. I’ve been on both sides of that fence, having received treatment and counseling when my depression was at its peak but having dealt with it since, choosing to fight it off on my own with no formal counseling and no antidepressants. Depression is a nemesis of mine, and when it rears its ugly head I lace up my bootstraps and go to battle. That of course is a metaphor. I’m also a writer / emcee, so I’m quite fond of metaphors. So while I don’t literally throw on some boots to go to war, I have at times written and almost always listen. Listen to who or what you may ask, if not a licensed medic? Hip Hop of course. I listen to Rap. And it usually helps. Usually… Sometimes it does more harm than good. Let me expound.
A buddy of mine who’s also a writer (though not of the emcee ilk, but rather a columnist for a prominent New England based online magazine) sent me this article which I recommend you read. The headline of the piece immediately piqued my curiosity. ‘Hip-hop therapy is new route to mental wellbeing, say psychiatrists.‘ “Really? Well that’s pretty cool,” I thought to myself. The subtext however, ‘Pharrell Williams song Happy highlighted for possible use in helping patients to tackle their own problems‘ admittedly made me skeptical. I’ve just really never liked that song too much. I always thought it was corny and my knee jerk reaction was, “You’re telling me Pharrel’s ‘Happy’ works as treatment for depression? No way!” At day’s end however, the connection is very real and personal to me. I love Rap music. I make Rap music. I write about Rap music. I struggle with depression. I often turn to Hip Hop (for better or worse) when I’m depressed. My intrigue was greater than my skepticism, so I continued reading.
The article’s focus is on the Hip Hop Psych project which aims to utilize Hip Hop as a “powerful vehicle for raising awareness of mental health.” It states that “hip-hop provides individuals with a sense of empowerment and self-knowledge that could be exploited to help people tackle their own psychological problems. There is an intrinsic awareness of issues connected with mental health in many forms of hip-hop.” Alright… I can see a connection there, but how exactly do these researchers interpret this? One of the women involved with the study, Becky Inkster, a neuroscientist at Cambridge University department of psychiatry goes on to explain that “many key rappers and hip-hop artists come from deprived urban areas which are often hotbeds for problems such as drug abuse, domestic violence and poverty, which are in turn linked to increased occurrences of psychiatric illnesses. These problems are rooted in their language and in their songs.” She concludes by stating, “hip-hop in general, and rap in particular, often carry messages that are much more complex than is generally appreciated. That makes it an ideal medium for helping individuals understand their psychological problems and for finding ways to deal with them.” The article notes that the therapy doesn’t just involve listening to Rap music, but also encouraging patients to write their own lyrics as a means of not only better understanding their current situation, but also forecasting where they’d like to be in the future.
I get that. I understand that many Rap lyrics do in fact deal with issues such as violence and poverty that can lead to depression. Also as I mentioned earlier, I’ve both listened to Hip Hop and written my own lyrics to help alleviate my depression in the past. Of course, my own experiences doing so have not been under formalized medical supervision. Reading this article however made me think about my history with depression and Hip Hop. My depression was diagnosed in my late teens, not long after I graduated high school. I may or may not have been depressed prior to graduating, I’m honestly not sure. What I do know is that it peaked during my freshmen and sophomore years in college.
Click here for more of Scholar’s experiences with depression and Hip Hop…