Music and My Mental Health

When Amanda asked me to write a guest blog for this week, my first thought was, “what do I know about music?” As I wrote in a previous post, Amanda is the one between us that has the real passion for music. I jokingly proposed “I Depend on My Sister for Literally Everything Music-Related” as a possible title. The best advice for writing, of course, is “write what you know,” and all I know are my experiences.

I began treatment for anxiety when I was 19. A panic attack landed me in therapy, and suddenly I was stuck bringing up things I hadn’t thought about in years to examine every week. I compared it a lot to cleaning your room: You have to make a mess before you can start putting everything back where it goes. In those first few months, my mind was a mess. I felt my thoughts racing and something akin to sensory overload at all hours. I would find myself crumpled up on the floor weeping while my roommates were out.

It felt like someone had pulled a thread, and I was unravelling. Suddenly, I lost control of my thoughts and emotions, and I felt powerless. Less than a year earlier, Garbage released their fifth studio album, Not Your Kind Of People. I love every song on that record, but “Control” is the song I really latched onto during this time in my life. The train-like harmonica echoed the blaring fantasies of simply running away from everything – moving to Ireland and becoming a barmaid.

Lyrically, “Control” was a match to my own feelings. I, too, was experiencing fear and anger at having “let my guard down” and speaking my truth. Living day by day was a challenge, and all I could tell myself was “it’s always darkest right before the dawn.” I even wrote a poem that was just a cheap rip-off of the song.

Fall Out Boy coming off hiatus and releasing Save Rock & Roll was a beautiful reprieve from my jackrabbit head. Fall Out Boy has been my favorite band since I was 11, and the release of singles “My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark” and “Phoenix” had me dancing/kickboxing around my room instead of crying on the floor.

I felt a bit better and a bit calmer with my status as a mental health patient. I returned home for the summer between my sophomore and junior years in university, preparing to transfer schools.

But lo and behold, that wasn’t the dawn. Life got darker.

Our dad suddenly died just nine days after I returned home.

Now I was 20 years old, once again across the country from my family, at a new school. It was no longer just anxiety I was dealing with; I began treatment for depression. My junior year was littered with skipped classes, missed assignments, and suicidal ideation. Three roommates moved in and moved out, and I spent most of the year living alone, which didn’t help.

Hayley Williams sang in Paramore’s “Last Hope,”

The salt in my wounds isn’t burning any more than it used to
It’s not that I don’t feel the pain, it’s just I’m not afraid of hurting anymore
And the blood in these veins isn’t pumping any less than it ever has
And that’s the hope I have, the only thing I know that’s keeping me alive

The whole song feels like a promise that no matter how bad it gets, life will eventually get better. The song deals with having hope, and that hope being the only thing that can carry us through life until that dawn breaks. You have to allow yourself to be happy. That particular bridge, though, was what I whispered to myself on nights that couldn’t sleep for crying, and what I told myself on mornings when I had to drag myself to class because that’s what my dad would have wanted.

I listened to “Last Hope” on repeat for months. I was fortunate enough to be able to see Paramore that fall on their Self-Titled Tour, and hearing the thousands of other fans sing along with just as much desperation as me felt cathartic.

My struggle with depression has continued, but I have largely recovered. I did eventually run off to Ireland, but it was less running away from my problems and more running toward my dreams – I’m here now as a Master’s student. I am in the place I have dreamed of coming for most of my life, and I have more friends than I ever have.

But depression doesn’t care whether you’re living your dreams or whether you have friends. Despite all the good things happening in my life and the loss of my dad becoming… not easier, exactly, but no longer at the forefront of my mind, I felt another wave of depression threatening to wash over me in November.

During this time, I discovered the K-Pop band Big Bang, and I just dove right in. I needed something to hold onto, and Big Bang was in the right place at the right time (or wrong place at the wrong time, depending on your perspective), figuratively speaking. I hadn’t been so obsessed with a band since perhaps middle school, when I went berserk for Fall Out Boy. I not only listened to all the music I could find on YouTube, I also watched every interview and variety show (translated into English) that I could find. This fixation and indulgence in new music helped me ward off that wave of depression.

I love their music because of the wide variety within their catalog. I love that they make me want to dance when, before this, I pretty much never wanted to dance. I love the members for their creativity and their kindness. It really has been like Discovering Fall Out Boy, 2.0: 11 Years Later, and Rachel is Back on the Hunt.

Of course, music cannot cure depression, anxiety, or any other mental illness. I have been in therapy and been on anti-depressants for over three years now, and I cannot stress enough how much both have helped me. Please, if you are feeling symptoms of depression or any other mental malaise, consult a mental health professional.

Still, in addition to seeking professional help, mental self-care can certainly include catharsis through music. In other cases, I have avoided some of my favorite bands like Evanescence when I was feeling gloomy; I put off being introduced to Lana del Rey for weeks because I was concerned that her style would leave me feeling empty.

What music has helped you through hard times? Are there specific albums that you listen to when you’ve felt down? Is there music you avoid during these times, even if you usually love it? Tell us about it!



I am working towards a PhD in Sociology at the University of Limerick, and earned my Master's in Race, Ethnicity, and Conflict at Trinity College Dublin. I enjoy writing blogs, stories, and poems.

Rachel has 4 posts and counting. See all posts by Rachel

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