How Rappers Are Tackling the Stigma Against Mental Health Issues

How Rappers Are Tackling the Stigma Against Mental Health Issues

For decades, rappers have been lauded for embodying gritty and raw images of masculinity. Contemporary rap music, however, has taken on a different tone. Artists such as Kanye West, and other big names in the hip-hop realm, have shed light on their struggles with mental health disorders. Some are boldly and explicitly talking about their issues; other artists are talking about helping others overcome their struggles with mental health. 

Uprooting the Stigmas Against Mental Health 

Stigma refers to “[D]iscrimination against an identifiable group of people, a place, or a nation.” Mental health stigmapertains to any discrimination held against those with mental health disorders. Unfortunately, mental health stigma is common. It’s important to remember that it isn’t your fault if you’re struggling and don’t deserve to be stigmatized.

There are three main types of mental health stigma:

#1. Public stigma: the belief by others that people with mental illness are violent and unpredictable or somehow less worthy of respect than those without a mental illness

#2. Self-stigma: internalized negative beliefs and attitudes about the self, which results in people with mental illness feeling shame and hopelessness about their condition

#3. Label avoidance: the general public’s reluctance to identify themselves as having a mental illness because they fear being stereotyped or discriminated against

Hip-Hop Artists Take up the Mic for Mental Health

Hip-hop has historically been a vehicle for people who would otherwise be condemned to the fringes of society to express their emotions and opinions. Rappers have always felt it was their duty to appeal to the hip-hop community and start conversations that were previously considered “taboo”— like violence, race, and gender. 

Since the dawn of hip-hop, black artists have relied upon music to deliver social messages. Hip-hop gives us a look into society through its lyrics. However, as rappers show us how they feel about their music, we get a small glimpse into their mindset and lifestyle. With mental health being such a hot topic, it was only fitting to compile what rappers say about mental health and how they’re dealing with it. 

The Most Common Mental Health Stigmas and the Truths They Mask

According to the National Institute on Mental Health, one in five adults experiences mental illness in a given year. Furthermore, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed that one in 25 adults experiences a severe mental illness. Mental health concerns are everywhere and affect everyone, regardless of age, class, education level, and gender.

The role stigma plays in keeping people from getting help for mental health disorders is undeniable. Mental health stigmas come from misunderstandings about what it means to have a mental health disorder and how people with them behave. People with mental health disorders are unfairly viewed as dangerous, unpredictable, or untrustworthy. They may also be perceived as lazy or weak. These stigmas ultimately keep people from seeking treatment for fear of being judged and misunderstood by peers and professionals alike. 

Other mental health stigmas include ideas such as:

“Mental Illness Isn’t Real.”

What people are missing: Mental health and physical health are both parts of the same overall health. Just like you can have physical illnesses that affect how your body works, you can also have mental conditions that affect your brain. It is just as common to have a mental illness as it is to have diabetes or heart disease.

“People With Mental Illnesses Are Violent and Unpredictable.”

What people are missing: People with mental health disorders are less likely to be violent than those without mental health disorders. Unfortunately, stigma often prevents people from seeking treatment for their mental health needs, and when this happens, their symptoms may worsen, which can lead to violence.

“If You Try Hard Enough, You Can Overcome Any Mental Illness.”

What people are missing: Treatment for many mental health disorders typically involves therapy and medication management, and recovery will look different for each person. However, if someone doesn’t receive treatment for their illness, they are less likely to recover.

“I Can Just Get Over It on My Own.”

What people are missing: Mental health problems like depression and anxiety can be equally burdensome and confusing for both those who suffer from these disorders and their loved ones. Just because someone isn’t physically ill doesn’t mean that they can get over it independently. 

Mental health stigma is often focused on the idea that mental illness is a personal weakness or a lack of willpower or character. However, the reality is that mental health disorders are medical conditions with biological causes, just like any other physical illness. Asking someone with cancer or heart disease to cure themselves with willpower or exercise isn’t fair in those situations either. Instead, studies have shown that psychotherapy is an effective treatment for mental illnesses.

“You Can’t Be Depressed if You’re Rich, Successful, or Beautiful.”

What people are missing: Some people think depression only happens to those who have suffered severe trauma or have been through difficult times. However, depression can strike anyone, regardless of their societal standing.

“Mental Health Is Only an Issue if You Have Suicidal Thoughts.”

What people are missing: With so much emphasis on preventing suicide, it can be easy to see all mental health problems as being the same — or to think that the only serious mental health disorders are those that result in suicide. However, severe psychological distress and suicidal thoughts are rare symptoms of many common mental health disorders like depression and anxiety.

“My Religion Will Save Me.”

What people are missing: Many people believe that God will protect them from mental health disorders. They don’t understand that mental health conditions are biologically-based illnesses, not a lack of faith. Just like other illnesses, mental illnesses can’t be cured by religion alone. You may still need professional medical help. 

Religion can be an essential part of life for many people, and their faith may help them through tough times. However, it’s important to remember that spiritual beliefs won’t cure every problem — including mental health issues. It might be helpful to talk with someone at your place of worship about how you can use your religion to help you cope, but keep in mind that religion is no substitute for professional medical treatment.

“If I Have a Mental Health Problem, I’m Weak.”

What people are missing: People often believe that mental health disorders make someone “weak” or unable to work or relate to others. A mental illness is not a sign of weakness — it is an indication that something is out of balance in your brain chemistry. Mental health disorders like depression have nothing to do with how strong or weak you are. 

Some people even think that the media make up certain mental illnesses to sell drugs. However, the truth is that people with these disorders have the same values and goals as other people around them, and they often work hard to be successful at home and on the job.

“People With Mental Health Problems Are Just Not as Strong as the Rest of Us.”

What people are missing: These words may seem harmless to some. However, to someone who has a mental illness, they can be more harmful than you might think. Beliefs like these can even keep people from getting help. This idea is a myth because there’s no evidence that people who struggle with depression, anxiety, or other mental health disorders lack strength. Their struggles often make them stronger than others.

“Medication Is a Cop-Out.”

What people are missing: Some people believe that taking medication for a mental illness is an easy way out of dealing with problems. However, many people would not be able to function at their full potential without a prescription. Research shows that medication combined with therapy can benefit most mental illnesses.

Breathe Easy; You’re Not Alone

To break the stigmas surrounding mental illness, some notable hip-hop artists have used their celebrity platforms to discuss their struggles with mental health.

Kanye West: Speaking on Bipolar Disorder

Hip-hop fans know Kanye West as rap’s most notorious renegade, but he’s used his platform to speak on his struggles with mental illness and the stigma that comes with it over the past decade. 

During his 2016 Saint Pablo concert tour, Kanye West, the Chicago native, experienced a mental breakdown and was hospitalized. Never one to shy away from controversy, West formally revealed his bipolar diagnosis in 2019. During an August 2019 appearance on David Letterman’s Netflix show, My Next Guest Needs No Introduction, West discussed his bipolar disorder. 

West also explores his mental health in his music. With the release of his eighth album, Ye, he tackles one of the most controversial topics in hip-hop: mental health. A whirlwind of emotions, the album brings forth conversations about mental health and his struggles living with bipolar disorder. 

For example, in the song “Yikes,” West raps the following, “That’s my bipolar shit, n—a what? That’s my superpower, n—a ain’t no disability. I’m a superhero! I’m a superhero!” The lyrics of “Yikes” sparked a meaningful conversation on Twitter about the importance of West being open and vulnerable about his mental illness and how it might be an inspiration to people who have a mental health disorder themselves. While many celebrities struggle to open up about their struggles with mental health, West has been honest enough to share his experience with the world through music.

Logic Sparks the Conversation About Suicide

Logic released the track “1-800-273-8255,” named for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number. The music video for the song follows a suicidal gay man through the day leading up to his attempt. Ultimately, he gets help from a crisis center instead of committing the act. The song pays tribute to those at their lowest points who need someone to talk to. 

The song also features guest appearances from Alessia Cara and Khalid, who sing lines like:

  • “I feel like I’m out of my mind.”
  • “It feels like my life ain’t mine.”
  • “Who can relate?”
  • “I know it, I know it, I know I’m hurting deep down but can’t show it.”

While these lyrics highlight the loneliness and desperation that preoccupy suicidal ideation, they also offer comfort. The song also shows how vital it is to open up about your true feelings and reach out for support when you need it.

The song has become one of Logic’s most successful, peaking at number three on Billboard’s Hot 100 and going platinum in the U.S. The video racked up tens of million views on YouTube, which shows how much the words and flow resonate with so many. As a result of this work, rapper Logic has become a poster child for mental health awareness.

Kid Cudi’s Public Battle With Mental Health Issues

The Cleveland native Kid Cudi has been a pioneer in normalizing mental health issues in hip-hop since he burst on the scene almost a decade ago, releasing songs such as “Pursuit of Happiness” and “Day ‘n’ Night” that help fans feel less alone in dealing with mental health problems. Before Cudi, you didn’t hear as many prominent rappers discussing loneliness or depression. Although there have been some notable exceptions — DMX’s first album was called “It’s Dark, and Hell Is Hot” — for the most part, rappers are expected to have bravado and street credibility.

Cudi changed that by being candid about his struggles with substance abuse and suicidal thoughts. His honesty made him relatable to listeners who felt isolated due to their mental health issues. Instances of his vulnerability include:

  • In 2016, Kid Cudi announced checking into treatment for depression  
  • Kid Cudi announced on Twitter in March 2022 that he’s leaving social media to focus on his mental health

Following Kid Cudi’s recent and public struggle with mental health issues, numerous people took to Twitter to share their own stories. The outpouring of support proves that people are no longer afraid to speak out about mental illness and hold a long-overdue meaningful conversation on mental health. It is impressive. Cudi continues to put his mental health above all-including his stellar career. Cudi understands that an individual cannot genuinely appreciate or sustain any success without proper mental health.

Chance the Rapper Launches a Non-Profit

Chance the Rapper, who has won several Grammy awards, continues to beat the odds in the music business. However, even with all of the success he’s earned over the years, he still has to deal with his demons.

In his recent interviews, Chance the Rapper revealed that he suffers from anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). His mental health struggles have stemmed from witnessing violence growing up in Chicago. For example, the Chicago native saw his friend being murdered in front of him and others getting killed. 

Accordingly, Chance the Rapper, who has been open about his depression and anxiety, launched SocialWorks in 2016 to help Chicago teens get assistance with mental health disorders and other issues. The nonprofit supports Chicago’s youth through the arts, education, civic engagement, and numerous mental health services. For instance, SocialWorks’ teaches its team and the youth how to identify signs of depression and anxiety in teenagers and where to get help.

White House Recovery and Detox Tackling the Mental Health Issues

White House Recovery and Detox provides services for people struggling with substance use disorders (SUDs) and co-occurring mental health issues. Our treatment center specializes in dual diagnosis, trauma-informed care, detoxification services, and residential treatment programs.

To most people, a rehab center seems like a cold, sterile place where those struggling with addiction go to get clean. Most places lack creativity. However, at White House Recovery and Detox, we look at recovery as a time of transformation, creativity, and rebirth. 

One way that we try to nurture this transformation is through our innovative, no-nonsense treatment program. We focus on addressing the underlying issues of SUD and mental health issues. For instance, we use music therapy to treat our clients. Our program includes a stellar music studio as one way to help individuals feel more comfortable opening up about their feelings. Ultimately, we offer programs that can lead you to a better quality of life, even after leaving treatment.

With every celebrity that comes forward to discuss their mental health, the veil of secrecy around mental health begins to lift more. In the fight toward mental health awareness, we appreciate the rappers pushing the issue to the forefront. Their music catalyzes conversation and inspiration. At White House Recovery and Detox, we support the use of music to help those who are suffering to find hope, strength, and refuge in a world that can feel unkind to those with mental health issues. We educate and rehabilitate those ready to begin a sober, mentally well, and creative lifestyle. Our qualified clinicians understand the unique needs of creatives and professionals. With this understanding comes less shame and more opportunity for treatment and prevention. Thus, we tailor our treatment process to support you in maintaining a solid foundation for years to come. Call us today at (800) 510-5393 for more information. 

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