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Expression of Mental Illness through Music

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Music
Wordcount: 1836 words Published: 1st Nov 2021

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There is a broad range of medical conditions that relate to mental health issues that can affect a person’s mood, thought process, and behavior. Someone suffering from a mental illness may experience a sort of emotional weight and have their life taken control of by their mental illness. Many artists over the years have referenced mental illness in their music. For example, the band I Prevail, released a new rock song titled “Breaking Down” from their album Trauma (2019). The song explains how depression can make a person have self-defeating thoughts and the hardship of trying to remove them. At the end of the song, it repeats “I don’t really like myself,” which is where the song paints the reality of how depression feels and how it controls a person’s life. This gives the idea of how the person views themselves through self-reflection. The contemporary R&B song “Heavy”, by the band Linkin Park featuring Kiiara is from the album One More Light (2017), which also refers to mental illnesses. This song centers around the emotional burden fixated on oneself and implies that they should take a step back and realize that an overbearing amount of emotional strain can be self-inflicting. 

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Issue Discussion

Mental illness can affect a person’s daily life, causing problems and making them mentally unhealthy. “Approximately 9.5% of American adults ages 18 and over, will suffer from a depressive illness each year” (Johns Hopkins Medicine). However, women are more likely to experience depression compared to men. Though mental illness covers a wide range of conditions, no one takes it into consideration that it can be a life-changing factor for the individual. Mental health becomes a major issue when experiencing ongoing signs and symptoms, causing stress and affect one’s ability to function normally (Mayo Clinic, 2019). Those who are diagnosed with a depressive disorder are likely to commit suicide, men more likely than women (Johns Hopkins Medicine). Some symptoms of mental illnesses can include feeling sad, withdrawal from friends and activities, low energy or problem with sleeping, detachment from reality, suicidal thinking, etc. (Mayo Clinic, 2019). There are many treatments available to those who are suffering from mental illnesses, however about two-thirds of people who are diagnosed with a known mental disorder will not seek help (World Health Organization, 2013). Many mental illnesses do not improve on their own and if some are left untreated or do not seek for help, over time, there are possibilities that a serious issue can occur and one’s mental illness may get worse.

Comparison of Songs

Music is one of the easiest ways that can get the listeners to think deeply about what the lyrics are telling them and have them understand the depth and meaning of the lyrics as well, especially if they are songs that they can relate too. “Keep me focused on my problems, I’m addicted to the pain.” The song “Breaking Down” explains how depression can consume someone’s body and mind, causing pain that can be overbearing. These lyrics directly explain how mental illness may feel. However, “Heavy” will have the listener thinking about their lyrics. “Stacking up problems that are so unnecessary.” Sometimes a person can get caught up in so many things that are happening around them that it can cause a flood of nonsense that will fill up in their head. Lyrics like these allow the listener to easily relate to the song in some manner.

Mental illnesses can be developed in anyone. “It’s not like I made the choice/ To let my mind stay so fucking messy.” The lyrics from “Heavy” explains how people do not choose to get mental illnesses and did not choose for their minds to be messed up. Whereas the lyrics from “Breaking Down” explains how a person may be unaware of the mental illness developing in them. “I guess I never noticed how it came creeping in.” A person can be unaware of their mental health condition and may be difficult for them to understand what is going on, especially if they have not experienced it before. Both songs help explain to the listener that people with a mental illness will first recognize a change in mood, but the negative thoughts will continue to occur more frequently. These thoughts will form a person’s mindset subconsciously without them noticing until it becomes detrimental. 

Unfortunately, many people do not know how it feels to have a mental illness or have a medical condition. For example, those who suffer from anxiety and depression get accused of being paranoid due to their overthinking. Someone who is diagnosed with a mental illness may feel as if everyone is out to get them and that no one will understand what they are going through. The lyrics “You say that I’m paranoid/ But I’m pretty sure the world is out to get me,” from “Heavy” explains how a person suffering from a mental illness can be self-absorbed. The song “Heavy,” describes that a person can feel attacked by those around them, feeling that people are against them, even though they say otherwise or are trying to help them. As for “Breaking Down,” at the end of the second verse, it states, “Everybody fucking hates you,” and in the outro, the lyrics “I don’t really like myself,” is repeated four times. The lyrics directly tells the listener how someone with a mental illness may think. Mental illnesses can make a person’s self-esteem very low, possibly leading to self-blame and self-hatred.

Those with this illness want to change and make themselves feel better, however, it can be quite challenging for those that want to go through the process. In the second verse of “Breaking Down,” the lyrics “Try to hide my demons, but they only multiply,” and the lyrics from the chorus “Got a pain that I can’t avoid” explains the hardship of trying to remove the negative thoughts. The lyrics “I keep dragging around what’s bringing me down” from the chorus in “Heavy” explains how those with mental illnesses are now stuck with this problem.

Although both songs refer to the same social issue, the approach and the message are brought out differently. “Breaking Down” paints the reality of how depression feels and how it can control someone’s life. As for “Heavy,” it explains the emotional toll mental illnesses can have on a person and describes the desperation a person can have. In the chorus, the lyrics “If I just let go, I’d be set free/ Holding on,” expresses the want for change, despite the belief that it is nearly impossible to do so.

Music & Lyric Connection

“Breaking Down” is a very intense song that is enhanced by the vocals and the instrumentation. In this song, there are clean vocals and screamed vocals. The screamed vocals appear during the pre-chorus and is used as an echo for the clean vocals in the chorus. For example, “I think I think too much (Too Much).” In which the parenthesis represents the screamed vocals. Throughout the song, there is a heaviness to the clean vocals which is strengthened by the low notes coming from the bass guitar, piano and the autotune used. There are quite a handful of pauses between the lyrics, which are filled with a beat drop, bringing suspense to the following lyric. “Hate every single second, minute, hour every day.” This lyric makes it clear that the song is full of distress and frustration, which is supported by the somber tones that is created by the instrumentals. There is a faster tempo in the pre-chorus and chorus compared to the verses in the song. The verses in the song are what helps the vocals reach their full potential in the chorus and puts an emphasis on the distress and frustration throughout the song. Before the outro, the fast tempo from the chorus begins to fade out, leaving only the piano, bass and the vocals. The lyrics “I don’t really like myself” are repeated four times, with a break in between each repetition. The piano plays and bass notes are sustained before the lyric is repeated. The repetition leads up to the very last lyric of the song, “I think I’m breaking down.” “Breaking Down” is a lyrical representation of depression.

In “Heavy, the opening lyric, “I don’t like my mind right,” explains to the listener that they are about to hear a story. This lyric is introduced by the keyboard going into a crescendo into the first word. The keyboard and sampler provide the music and the beat from the beginning of the song to the end of the second verse. The guitar, bass, and drums are introduced in the second chorus, resembling a breakthrough of hopefulness, right after the first two verses make the listener feel a sense of vulnerability. The music and the lyrics from the chorus, “If I just let go, I’d be set free/ Holding on,” represents the optimism and tells the listener that whatever they need is out there, they just need to find a way to get to that place. There are two vocals in this song, one male and one female. The two different vocalists give different perspectives on the issue, implying that it is not just one person struggling, but there are many people out there who need help too, which brings out more meaning to the song.

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Many people struggle with mental illnesses and it has become a topic that is open for discussion and that many musicians like to sing and bring awareness to. In “Breaking Down” by I Prevail, the song depicts how depression may be like and portrays that feeling through the lyrics and supports it by their clear and screamed vocals. As for “Heavy” by Linkin Park, the song focuses on the emotional strain that a mental illness cause. The message that the lyrics deliver, and instrumentation from the piano and the added instruments in the chorus help bring out the emotions and thoughts that can be felt by this song. Both songs recognize the struggle of mental illnesses with different approaches in their vocals, lyrics, and instrumentation.


“Mental Disorders Affect One in Four People.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, 29 July 2013, www.who.int/whr/2001/media_centre/press_release/en/.

“Mental Health Disorder Statistics.” Johns Hopkins Medicine, www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/mental-health-disorder-statistics. Accessed 30 Dec. 2019.

“Mental Illness - Symptoms and Causes.” Mayo Clinic, 8 June 2019, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/mental-illness/symptoms-causes/syc-20374968.


I Prevail, Trauma, Fearless Records (2019)

Linkin Park, One More Light, Warner Bros. Machine Shop Records (2017)


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