Millennials, mental health and music: Alex's story
Anxiety, panic attacks, and depression left Alex feeling isolated and out of step at university… until the powerful songs from her favourite band brought back a sense of hope and calm
It was during my time at university in 2014 that my mental health began to decline. Whether that was from social pressures, or struggling with the work, I found it a challenge to feel completely comfortable. These weren’t new experiences, however. Throughout school, I had no feeling of belonging. But I had art and music to keep me company, and that seemed like enough.
The topic of mental health was always the subject of uncertainty. Growing up in the early 2000s, there weren’t many representations of it, or education about its vast spectrum.
It seemed that the only mental health was poor health. As a result of the misunderstanding of the topic, I suffered with untreated anxiety and depression. How could a child experience this? Surely these problems only occurred alongside ‘real’ life-changing events? If a medical problem wasn’t severe, or physically compromising, it didn’t seem to exist. So, on the occasion when I experienced a panic attack, it was dismissed as just me over-dramatising.
Today, it seems that others from the millennial generation also had to deal with the results of these assumptions. As there was little information regarding symptoms and treatments for mental health problems, people found comfort in other solutions. One of these was music. The more people I meet who suffer with mental ill-health, the more I recognise how music can unite and spark acceptance. From disco to grunge, for many it can be an escape.
For me, one of the most important bands from the noughties was My Chemical Romance. They challenged stereotypes, and offered hope to those who couldn’t understand their place in the world. Their powerful lyrics communicated a relatable sense of understanding, and had a huge effect on their audience.
More than a decade later, when I listen to their songs, I’m reminded of the profound impact they had on society and the discussion of mental health. MCR changed the way we tackled emotions and cultural perspectives. The band was relatable. They were reflective. But above all, they were unique. They appealed to people because they represented something that mainstream music didn’t: strength in difference. Simply put, they created a space for people to belong.
Their music became even more important during my time at university in Leeds. Throughout my first year in 2014, panic attacks and cycles of depression became more frequent. Due to the limited information provided about mental health, and previous unsuccessful attempts to seek advice, I didn’t receive professional help until 2015.
When you suffer with anxiety, and can even have a panic attack in a supermarket, the possibility that change will cause problems is obvious. The sudden yet simple alteration that university offered, such as meeting new people and moving to a new location, were terrifying.
Unfortunately, I struggled with the student lifestyle. While I looked around and witnessed students enjoying endless nights of partying, I struggled to feel comfortable with that.
Regardless of the negative effect my mental health caused, I still went to all my classes. Although there were endless episodes when I felt drained, I didn’t think taking days off from uni was acceptable.
Even though it’s completely rational to take time off for a physical illness, when a break for our mental wellbeing is required, you can start to feel ridiculous. What everyone needs to realise is that poor health, both physical and mental, needs attention. It’s absolutely fine to rest and recharge, even if it requires absence from school or work.
In 2015, when I finally realised medical help was available, university life started to improve. I realised there was more than just the stereotype. I was fortunate to have lived with some of the best housemates, and studied alongside some of the nicest and most creative people I had ever met. Although this had a huge positive impact, I still needed days to focus on my mental health. Some were harder than others.
This is where My Chemical Romance’s music played a huge role in creating a safe space. The hopefulness they had advocated for more than a decade ago became necessary once again. MCR reminded me that there were others that felt the same. Their lyrics emphasised that it’s OK to try to find a place of belonging, and it’s OK to be different. Through their music, I managed to find calm in the midst of the battle with my mental health.
"Their lyrics emphasised that it’s OK to try to find a place of belonging, and it’s OK to be different"
Now at 25, I have decided to join the mental health revolution. Recently, I earned my first aid qualification from Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England. I also created the website yourmindormine.org to provide relevant stories and advice around mental health.
As someone who deals with issues of anxiety, depression, and knows many others with similar experiences, I hope to offer guidance to those in need. Whether through art, music, or real-life stories, ‘Your mind or mine?’ will provide a place where people can find comfort in recognition, entertainment, and positivity.
For others like me who grew up around noughties rock, music will continue to play a powerful role in everyday life. MCR will always be one of my favourite bands because they created art not just for themselves, but also for those who needed support. They wrote about mental health because they too experienced it, in a time when the stigma was at its height. Today, their lyrics still inspire adults who were once the kids who needed them: proving how powerful their music was, and continues to be.
"Through music, people can find hope, happiness, and understand that all mental health is real"
Every time I listen to their songs, I’m reminded of the important and inspirational messages that were entwined. I hope that today, others will find the same comfort in their music that I do.
The skinny jeans and heavy eyeliner might have disappeared over time, but the emotion created by musicians such as My Chemical Romance will never fade. Through music, people can find hope.
So, whether you’re still an emo kid, or you find yourself listening to the best hip-hop records of all time, remember, music matters. It has the power to change minds and change lives.
Rav Sekhon | BA MA MBACP (Accred) says:
Alex’s inspirational story highlights the struggle of living with mental health issues. But the power of music has evidently helped Alex on her journey, providing her with support and a connection with herself that has transcended everything else. By connecting with the support around her, she was able to receive the help she needed and this had a very positive impact, enabling her to grow. Alex’s struggle is now her source of strength and courage to inspire others.
To connect with a counsellor to discuss feelings of anxiety and depression, visit counselling-directory.org.uk