Musicians Have A Role To Play In Raising Mental Health Awareness

…Their Music Should Get LoudER In Tackling Mental Health Issues

By Kudakwashe Pembere

A large section of local, regional alongside global musicians seem to be letting the world down in tackling mental health issues as they neglect them through not using their magical vocal and instrumental artistry.

The deafening silence on these issues has forced Zimba Nice to write about this issue. Mental health issues affect everyone in the world. However, Africans have their own version and always allege jealous people bewitched them. What would you expect, with movies from some African countries portraying ‘witches bottling’ fully-grown men and women!

It’s undisputed that music is powerful enough to alter emotions, the most common being the ability to soothingly calm anxiety and agitation.

Another, although, not recommended, is its propensity to send people into a frenzy or its use in rabble-rousing.

Perusing internet documentations of musicians and mental health issues, Zimba Nice found that most musicians only speak in press interviews about mental disorders better yet only to sing about this after losing a friend or colleague to conditions like depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, to mention a few. This is laudable although interviews aren’t enough.

Actors have significantly played their role in raising awareness on mental health issues portraying characters affected by mental health conditions although it’s a Catch 22 situation for them.

Musicians as influencers could find themselves in a similar quagmire but until they sing on these experiences their impact will be strongly felt.

The battle against mental illnesses could be won if musicians played their role in raising awareness about such issues. Better still, if musicians sang on these mental health issues affecting them, they could not only heal themselves but their humongous fan base with mutual health conditions.

Although I feel musicians’ role in raising awareness on HIV/AIDS issues, my mid-article disclaimer would be to inform readers that this feature in no way tries to downplay their efforts but intends to provoke them in doing the same on mental health issues. Mental Health disorders should be considered more touchy-feely than HIV and other health conditions for like fate, they are inescapable. A lot has also been sang about gender based violence which then cause post-traumatic stress, bipolar disorders to mention but the few.

Giving the benefit of the doubt to our local musicians who have referenced mental health issues in their works, there is Romeo Anthony also known as Shinsomann. In the song Ndakupenga he sings of how society perceives him mentally challenged  through his vocal prowess.

Vanovenga voti hanzi ndakupenga

Hanzi ndakupenga ndavatenderedza brain


Haters say I’ve gone mentally ill

I’ve gone mentally ill

In fact, I am the one making them go bonkers.

For the sake of argument, Shinso  perpertuates stigma among those with mental impairments packaging of words such as Ndavatenderedza brain, Ndakupenga among other words.

He vehemently denies being mentally ill not considering that mental health disorders are just like any other disease. They can affect anyone and can be cured.

Until musicians address mental health issues, it is undoubted that behaviour change can be instituted. Talking of behaviour change, we have local musicians indirectly tackling mental health issues such as Dobba Don with Mudendere, Winky D’s MuZiii and Hwindi President’s Usafunge kudhakwa kupenga to mention but the few. (Next week an article on Songs of Anti Drug Abuse).

After all, mental health patients struggle with lack of the sense of belonging, stigma, loneliness, hopelessness, lack of faith, lack of love to mention but the few as experienced by those living with HIV.

Many musicians of global repute have at least aired their personal experiences in dealing with mental impairment. Janet Jackson, Justin Beiber, Sia, Kendrick Lamar,  Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, Mariah Carey, Beyonce, to mention but these few have revealed their battles with these mental conditions on press events.

The world received with shock last week the death of iconic South African rapper Jabulani Tsambo better known in the music circuit Hip Hop Pantsula acronymed HHP.  He frequently performed in several indigenous languages, mostly in Setswana. He died at the age of 38.

According to The Citizen, a close friend suspected, “It was the depression that took him.”

This could be coincidence for without looking farther, from within our Zimbabwean borders we have our very own talented Hip Hop chanter Mizchief who succumbed to depression at 38. According to those close to him, it is believed at one time, he stayed at the club by Parkade in Harare.

Last year, I vividly recall the African Mental health Research Institute (Amari) inviting musicians to the launch of their campaign of raising mental health issues. At the launch were prominent local musicians such as Edith WeUtonga, Alexio Kawara and Peace ‘BaShupi’ Ndlovu better known as who pledged to raise awareness on mental health issues. Better yet, an aspiring musician named Claudius who is battling a mental impairment sang of his struggles against this unsung condition which saw the musicians promising assistance in the form of a collabo after being impressed by his vocal prowess. Zimba Nice will soon share Claudius’ experiences with mental impairment.

Claudius was soon to receive another boost as revered journalist Hopewell Chin’ono introduced him to iconic granddad of Zim music Dr Oliver Mtukudzi. Similarly, a promise was made by Dr Mtukudzi to Claudius.

During the World Mental Mealth Day commemorations held in Norton recently, Ashton Nyahora also known by the stage name Mbeu pledged shows dedicated on raising awareness on mental health issues.

Look here, a promise made is a debt accrued which needs to be paid. All these instances of Zimbabwean musicians having to campaign on mental health issues are pledges that need to be honoured.

After all, these musicians according to studies are more affected by mental disorders such as depression than general populace.

Music like any other artistic career takes a huge toll on professionals. For more than a year, we have seen Justin Bieber open up about a number of mental health issues.

Speaking to NME ahead of the release of his album Purpose, the former teen star said that he struggled with pressures of fame. “I just want people to know I’m human. I’m struggling just to get through the days. I think a lot of people are,” he said. “You get lonely, you know, when you’re on the road. People see the glam and the amazing stuff, but they don’t know the other side. This life can rip you apart.”

The ‘Love Yourself’ singer made the decision that he could no longer partake in fan meet-and-greets. “I’m going to be cancelling my meet and greets,” Bieber wrote on Instagram. “I enjoy meeting such incredible people but I end up feeling so drained and filled with so much of other people’s spiritual energy that I end up so drained and unhappy.”

Here’s something that’s probably not all that surprising: A study published by Help Musicians UK, a charity for UK musicians, has discovered that musicians and music industry professionals may be more than three times more likely to suffer from depression than the general public.

As Pitchfork notes, the report, titled “Can Music Make You Sick?”, is based on a survey of 2,211 people by the University of Westminster and its music industry-focused think tank, MusicTank. All cliches about brooding singer-songwriters aside, this is a serious issue that points to a critical lack of mental-health support in the music community. And it’s not just musicians who are affected — while the largest group of participants self-identified as musicians (39%), the study also accounted for other industry roles including music management (9%), label or music publishing (7%), audio production (4%),and live crew (2%).

The study paints a somewhat grim picture of life in the music industry, with 71% of respondents reporting that they have experienced panic attacks and/or high levels of anxiety, and another 65% claiming to have suffered from depression. This is in stark contrast to the general population of the UK, in which 1 in 5 adults (19%) has experienced anxiety or depression.

So why, exactly, are musicians so depressed? The reasons are actually quite obvious and have a lot to do with the competitive, economically unstable nature of an industry that asks a lot from its contributors. Respondents attributed their mental sickness to everything from the physical exhaustion of working long hours without pay to issues related to the problems of being a woman in the industry, including sexist attitudes and sexual harassment.

As one respondent explained: “My depression is made worse by trying to exist as a musician… Rarely has playing music been detrimental to my health, quite the opposite… but the industry and socio-economic pressures… make this a f*****g s**** industry to try and make a living in.”

Another elaborated: “I’m not sure I’d say it’s the music that makes me sick. It’s the lack of things I’d consider success. It’s the lack of support doing something that’s not considered ‘real work.’”

Its my wish that music professionals particularly those sharing mental health experiences in interviews realise that they are still in the shadows until they vocalise and instrumentalise.

There is a thin line between being shy in revealing one’s illness and stigma although one feeds into the other. To musicians who are yet to discover they such mental disorders or are shy to go out in the public by at least mentioning in press conferences or press interviews, for the sake of those affected, and those who succumbed to mental disorders, let’s raise awareness through singing.

Kudakwashe Pembere is the co founding editor of Zimba Nice.





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