Mental health is a prominent issue within the music community, so New Noise Magazine reached out to a diverse group of artists and asked them to speak about their personal experiences with mental illness. This is an exclusive ongoing spotlight—coinciding with Issue #31, The Mental Health Issue, of the print magazine—that showcases a refreshing transparency on the struggles many individuals face and the coping mechanisms they’ve developed to overcome them.

Kyle Hollis of Picturesque

Lexington, Kentucky-based Picturesque blended pop, rock, and post-hardcore on their debut EP, Monstrous Things, which was released in November of 2015 via Equal Vision Records. The band—comprised of vocalist Kyle Hollis, guitarists Zach Williamson and Dylan Forrester, bassist Robert Mote, and drummer Cole Clark—followed up the EP by dropping a single entitled “Fake Fiction” in September of 2016 and embarking on a tour supporting labelmates, I The Mighty. The single is taken from the band’s forthcoming debut full-length, set for release in 2017.

Are there any personal experiences with mental health issues you’d like to share?

I spent roughly two and a half years in a slump to where I wasn’t myself. It came after an engagement was broken off. I was devastated. I felt worthless. I ended up losing weight. You could see in my face that I wasn’t healthy. I had the same nightmare every night. Every now and then, it would change a little, but it would always end up the same. I still have this nightmare on occasion, but it doesn’t alarm me as much as it used to. 

How does your mental health status interact with or inform the way you make music?

Lyrically, it’s everything. I only write about what I’ve been through and where I’m at as a person. If I feel a way about something, not only will the song reflect that but so would the way the line is delivered.

What are some mechanisms you’ve developed and/or discovered that help you cope?

I tend to overwork myself to avoid thinking about what’s wrong. I’m not saying this is a good thing, but everything is fine until you stop working and have time to reflect on the day. 

Are there ways you think the music world could better accommodate and/or include those living with mental illness?

Not really, unless every venue wants to have therapy dogs. I think music is made mostly by people with a mental illness of some sort. We’ve got to be a little crazy to choose to be poor and live in a van at least half the year. So, I would say people with mental illness are definitely included. 

How are your personal experiences impacted by external forces—subculture, dominant culture, political rhetoric, policy shifts, the news media, social media, etc.?

Social media as an outside force can be harmful to people with mental illness. Everyone makes their life look so extravagant and joyful. You start wishing you were as happy as they are. It’s a slippery slope from there.

Kate Flynn of The Winter Passing

The Winter Passing band 2017
Photo by Sean Cahill

Irish indie-pop ensemble, The Winter Passing—comprised of Jamie Collison, Rob and Kate Flynn, and Neil Kirwan—released their debut EP, Scrapbook, in 2013 via View From The Attic, Struggletown, and Something New Records. In September of 2015, they partnered with 6131 Records to release their first full-length, A Different Space of Mind. Now, 6131 will team up with the U.K. label Big Scary Monsters to unveil The Winter Passing’s new EP, Double Exposure, on April 21.

Are there any personal experiences with mental health issues you’d like to share?

It was my second year of college and living away from home. I’ve always been an introvert, so the fact that I didn’t want to party every night wasn’t new or surprising, but I always have tried to push myself to get out and hang out with friends in a different setting to bars and clubs. I didn’t notice it until way later, but I said “no” to more invitations than I can remember for the final three years of college. I said “no” so many times that my friends stopped asking, and I don’t blame them.

That second year, I blamed it on growing out of the “partying” stage of college. The third year, I blamed it on stress. Truth is, I didn’t have any idea back then why I didn’t want to leave my house, why getting out of bed was a struggle, why sometimes I would watch the window from my bed as if it was something interesting. Why I would lie to myself, tell myself it was OK to miss this day of college, why I couldn’t face my friends, or why I could only brave a smile anytime I did see them, my family, or even the band. 

The summer before my final year of college, I was at an Arcade Fire show and experienced my first full-blown panic attack. I passed out and don’t remember much, but the next day started the worst year of my life. The only way I can put it is that I had a break with reality. I could never really do it justice by trying to explain it or exactly how terrifying it was. I basically felt like I was having an existential crisis 24/7. Thinking of it now, some of the thought processes I had were funny in a sense—think “The Truman Show”—but I didn’t sleep much at night, because I would work myself up, thinking horrible things like, “I won’t wake up if I go to sleep.” I’ve never felt that vulnerable in my whole life.

I had tried professional help in my final year of college, but to be frank, the college counselor wasn’t much of a help to me, and it sort of put me off the whole process. To be honest, I was too embarrassed to talk to anyone else, because, logically, I knew the things I was thinking were out-of-this-world-bizarre, and I was scared of what people would think of me. It was only until 2016 on the band’s most recent trip to America that I fully, without any doubt, voiced what I’d experienced. A friend told me that he’d experienced something similar, and it allowed me to feel comfortable sharing. Before that, I would actually tell myself that “there are people that are worse off than me, I’m just being selfish by feeling like this,” or “I won’t waste anyone’s time by trying to explain this.” 

How does your mental health status interact with or inform the way you make music?

I’m not sure exactly when I put myself back into a better headspace, but I know it started when I began writing lyrics differently than I had before. I was writing every day, and almost everywhere I went, it became very cathartic and the most successful mechanism I discovered for helping myself. I also found going to work to be pretty helpful. At the time, it was the only place that I didn’t have any spare moments to worry whether or not I was a character from “Westworld.”

This is all still very new to me. As of this writing, it was only a couple of months ago that I confidently admitted, “Hey, this happened to me, and sometimes I still suffer with it.” There’s safety in numbers, and that can apply to mental health too; I was able to reckon with my feelings because another person shared theirs with me.

I feel like the music scene and a lot of other subcultures are making the effort to be open about mental health. The social stigma that mental health once had is slowly disintegrating and a new form of thinking is shaping; it’s starting to be OK to talk openly about feeling the way you do. It’s incredibly important that we promote this new ethos constantly, be it at music shows, art shows, schools, etc., and keep helping people realize that it’s OK to not feel OK.

Zech Pluister of Sleep On It

Photo by Vince De Santiago

Chicago indie alternative act, Sleep On It—comprised of guitarists and vocalists TJ Horansky and Jake Marquis, bassist AJ Khan, and drummer Luka Fischman—formed in 2013, but the recent addition of vocalist Zech Pluister has taken the band to new heights. Now signed to Equal Vision Records, Sleep On It released their debut EP, Lost Along the Way, in October of 2016. They are currently traversing the U.S. with As It Is, Roam, and Grayscale, kicking off their tour in early March and wrapping it up on May 27 in Columbus, Ohio.

Are there any personal experiences with mental health issues you’d like to share?

Anxiety and depression are something I’ve struggled with for many years. Fast forward to now, age 23, and both problems have turned into more than that. Both my anxiety and depression have intertwined into everything I do—be it work, writing music or lyrics, friendships, they are always there.

Both always seem most prevalent while on the road. Basically every tour I’ve ever been on, I end up isolating myself due to my anxiety attacks. The long drives in the van turn into hours of unexpected and unwanted time feeling claustrophobic, but also like everyone and everything is miles away. I end up wandering my brain, finding forgotten memories, mistakes, and choices that all morph into a melting pot of reasons to stay awake. Cycling through everything I’ve ever done and trying to find a reason to justify my actions, pulling out hair and feeling sick, but always coming up empty and feeling even more terrible on the other end.

What are some mechanisms you’ve developed and/or discovered that help you cope?

Two of the biggest things I have found that help keep these demons at bay are reading and writing. Diving into characters I wish I could be, solving problems that have no bearing on my existence, finding silver linings. Writing short little stanzas and stories about my day, turning my daily troupe into something I can make into anything.

Most of all, though, I’ve found that a big key to battling these issues, at least for me, has been the people I surround myself with. I spent years surrounded by people that didn’t even want me there, let alone care enough to ask if I was OK or wanted to talk. I am happy to say that is no longer the case, and in recent months, I’ve experienced significantly less symptoms than I am used to, and for that, I have newfound friends to thank. They have instilled confidence and love, hope, and reassurance in me and picked me up from the darkest places, only to show me that everything around me was still full of light, I just had to go find it.

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