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Can Mental Illness Be Portrayed in Music?

By: Makayla Campbell and Aurelia Tan


I miss being' happy, I miss what we had.”


That powerful lyric is from a Gnash song by the name, I’m so sad. In such few words, the rapper’s deep and relatable message is conveyed, illustrating the power of songs. Music is often considered a form of expression, and artists can easily portray mental illnesses through their lyrics—whether we see it or not. Below we’ve listed our top songs for their mental health portrayal, so stay tuned in!

Sabrina Carpenter - Exhale


“I put too much weight on words and glances.

 I, I put too much weight on situations. 

I, I put too much on myself. 

Thinking I don't deserve what I've earned.” 

There’s no doubt that these lyrics talk about mental illness and when asked what illness the song was portraying, Sakinah, a high school student answered, “Anxiety because you tend to overthink in certain situations that aren’t too serious.” Her response was right on the money; Sabrina Carpenter, in an interview with MTV, confirmed the song was indeed about her experiences with anxiety and stress.


Gnash - I’m So Sad


“I miss havin' fun, I miss my mom and dad. 

I miss bein' happy, I miss what we had. 

But most of all, I miss the feelings that I used to have. 

I wish someone could tell me why I'm so fu**in' sad”


Longing mixed with bittersweet anger resonates through the song. These lyrics accurately portray such a common feeling—nostalgia. Upon listening to Gnash’s song, highschooler Jinah responded, “The lyrics hit me in the heart.” With every “I miss”, listeners feel the same emotions as Gnash, allowing us to feel heard through the song of another.



Taylor Swift - Blank Space


“Screaming, crying, perfect storms

I can make all the tables turn

Rose garden filled with thorns

Keep you second guessin' like, ‘Oh my God, who is she?’"


Swift uses vivid imagery to explain to her listeners how she feels; mainly, that things once beautiful have now turned sour. She cleverly uses personification to paint an intimate picture in our minds, immersing ourselves in her words. Storms can’t actually scream, but the lyrical elegance allows us to grasp the depth of how Swift really feels. She wants us to know how mad she is and how she’s trying to convince herself that she has the power to “make all the tables turn.” According to Grace, a junior in high school, this part of Blank Space portrays “anger or everything is going wrong...nothing seems fair.” 

As it seems, most kids know the feeling: 58% agreed (on an Instagram poll) that the lyrics spoke to them.


Blackbear - Anxiety


“Every time I smile, what I'm doing is fine, does it show?

 'Cause I'm really freaking out, too scared of letting you go.

 Then my heart drowns out my thoughts, my head's about to explode.”


Blackbear is expressing how anxiety affects him and his decisions. “I don’t know, the vibe of the song is calming for me,” said Christian, a senior in high school, when questioned if he would listen to the song when anxious. In fact, more than a third of people responded yes to listening to the song when feeling overwhelmed, proving that, in the end, the song does help a few people when they are experiencing anxiety. 


Demi Lovato - Sober


Cause I'm dying inside. 

Wake me when the shakes are gone. 

And the cold sweats disappear.”


This song resonates with someone who is in pain, someone who wants the suffering to go away—someone who needs to be pulled out of the darkness. When questioned about what he thought about the song, Aidan said, “Demi Lovato wrote this song when she was struggling with ‘depression from drugs’. As a result, she lets others know that they aren’t alone in this pain. 





It’s clear now that artists experience the same things we do: anxiety, depression, and even addiction. By allowing themselves to be vulnerable in their songs, they help their listeners by letting them know that they aren’t alone in their struggle. That’s why people tend to listen to music when they are anxious or hurt. It’s a reminder that even if you feel alone, you aren’t. Just put your earphones and play the song that speaks the most to you. 



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Sources


Genius. “Demi Lovato – Sober.” Genius, 20 June 2018, genius.com/Demi-lovato-sober-lyrics.

Genius. “Sabrina Carpenter – Exhale.” Genius, 3 May 2019, genius.com/Sabrina-carpenter-exhale-lyrics.

Genius.“Taylor Swift – Blank Space.” Genius, 27 Oct. 2014, genius.com/Taylor-swift-blank-space-lyrics.

Genius. “​Blackbear & FRND – ​Anxiety.” Genius, 24 Nov. 2017, genius.com/Blackbear-and-frnd-anxiety-lyrics.

Genius. “​Gnash – ​I'm so Sad.” Genius, 10 May 2019, genius.com/Gnash-im-so-sad-lyrics.

Staff, MTV News. “Sabrina Carpenter Takes Us Inside Her Most Confessional Song Yet.” MTV News, MTV, 4 June 2019, www.mtv.com/news/3126255/sabrina-carpenter-interview-exhale/.

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