Mental health issues are regularly dissected across a plethora of music.
So in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, we’ve compiled a list of some of the most raw and transparent songs surrounding depression, anxiety, and everywhere in between. Here are some of the best songs to help remind you that you’re not alone and that mental health is a widespread topic that needs to be discussed more transparently.
The Notorious B.I.G. – “Suicidal Thoughts”
Biggie often used his music as a vessel to communicate his meditations on death and paranoia, but “Suicidal Thoughts” feels just plain hopeless. “When I die, fuck it I wanna go to hell, cause I’m a piece of shit it ain’t hard to fuckin’ tell” is one of the most quoted lines in music, but that line is the track’s softest.
“I swear to God I wanna just slit my wrists and end this bullshit,” he raps, fed up. “Throw the magnum to my head threaten to pull shit.” The track soon concludes with a single gunshot.
Bowling for Soup – “Turbulence”
While the pop-punk band is known for fratty tunes like “1985” and “Girl All the Bad Guys Want,” on “Turbulence,” the Texan trio tackled their mental health issues via a heartfelt acoustic ballad. “It got really bad – I couldn’t physically go about my day,” Frontman Jaret Reddick told Kerrang!.
“Challenges throughout the day would be things like a phone call I had to make, or an email I needed to send…even taking the trash cans to the curb. Things like that became impossible for me to do – It was a scary feeling.” The song, off the 2011 effort Fishin’ for Woos, remains the band’s saddest and most vulnerable track.
The Geto Boys – “Mind’s Playing Tricks On Me”
The Houston Horrorcore pioneers often dove into the macabre in their music, but on their iconic hit “Mind’s Playing Tricks on Me,” the trio hone in on PTSD, schizophrenia, paranoia, and depression. “Four walls just staring at a n****, I’m paranoid, sleeping with my finger on the trigger,” Scarface raps. “My mother’s always stressing I ain’t living right, but I ain’t going out without a fight.” The track’s authentic narrative is steeped in reality, as Scarface himself at times struggled with manic-depressive tendencies.
Paramore – “Fake Happy”
The one thing that has sustained throughout Paramore’s years-long transition from emo punk rock to bubblegum pop has been Hayley Williams’ vulnerable songwriting. On “Fake Happy,” Williams croons about the deceptive nature of depression over ’80s synths and beachy guitars. The idea of pretending to be happy is second nature to many of us, especially during times of mental struggle, but to hear Williams call out the practice in such a frank way is refreshing.
DMX – “Slippin”
Off Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood, the late DMX finds the rapper delving back into all the struggles that came to define his life and untimely death. But like most of DMX’s music, “Slippin” is still sprinkled with moments of optimism.
“They put me in a situation forcin’ me to be a man. When I was just learnin’ to stand without a helpin’ hand,” DMX raps with his guttural voice. For DMX, survival in and of itself was always a victory. “Ay yo I’m slippin’ I’m fallin’ I gots to get up,” he raps on the chorus. “Get me back on my feet so I can tear shit up.”
Evanescence – “Going Under”
On the first Evanescence song ever heard by the masses, “Going Under” is a testament to the sinking feeling we all get in the midst of a mental breakdown, although this particular breakdown was caused by Amy Lee’s heartbreak. Over a thick wave of metal guitars, Lee’s angelic voice perfectly captured the angst of early 2000s post-grunge music. The song itself is about “When you’re at the end of your rope,” Lee said. “When you’re at the point where you realize something has to change. That you can’t go on living in the situation you’re in.”
Linkin Park – “Crawling”
The late Chester Bennington had such a knack for crafting raw and heartfelt rock music, but “Crawling” is particularly powerful. That itching feeling that paranoia and depression have as they set in is incredibly relatable, and Bennington’s grinding voice conveys this frustration and claustrophobia perfectly.
A Tribe Called Quest – “Stressed Out”
On Tribe’s fourth LP Beats, Rhymes, and Life, the trio of Q-Tip, Ali Shaheed Muhamad, and the late Phife Dawg speak on the stress and anxieties that people of color regularly face and how to navigate those stressors. It’s a vulnerable self-help song that remains inspiring to this day. “We gotta hold it down so we can move on past all adversities, so we can get through fast, like that,” Q-Tip raps.
Earl Sweatshirt – “Grief”
Off the rapper’s legendary project I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside, Earl Sweatshirt explores his day-to-day grief in a stream-of-consciousness rap. The constant motion of the song causes the listener to fester in Earl’s overwhelming anxieties. He raps about his scaling paranoia and his fear of death. He questions human mortality and stews on the loss of his grandmother, whose death destroyed his sense of trust.
Young The Giant – “Cough Syrup”
The band’s oldest song, “Cough Syrup” by Young The Giant is a heartbreaking look at how consuming depression and paranoia can be. Frontman Sameer Gadhia described the soft indie track as “kind of a cry for help” and an ode to breaking free. “Not necessarily from oppression,” he clarified. “But the common symptoms of suburbia like boredom, normality, and homogeneity.”
A Day To Remember – “Life @ 11”
This guttural track from the South Florida metal band dissects the feelings of schizophrenia, narrating the inner workings of a mentally ill man as he struggles to break out of his head and realize his potential. The song’s breakdown at its halfway mark where lead man Jeremy McKinnon finally calls out “STOP!” is particularly powerful, made even more so as a wave of thick guitars and drums cascade around him.