James Blake discussed depression and anxiety during Performing Arts Medicine Association’s (PAMA) annual symposium on Sunday, Billboard reports. During his talk, he opened up about his personal experiences with depression that led to “eventual suicidal thoughts” and encouraged others to not suffer in silence.
“I was taken away from my normal life essentially at an age where I was half-formed,” Blake said during a panel called “You Got This: Managing the Suicide Crisis in the Arts Population.” He added that being on the road can exacerbate mental health struggles.
“Your connection to other people becomes surface level,” he explained. “So if you were only in town for one day and someone asked you how you are, you go into the good stuff … which generally doesn’t involve how anxious you feel [or] how depressed you feel.”
Blake said unhealthy eating habits while on tour also contributed to his depression. “I would say that chemical imbalance due to diet and the deterioration of my health was a huge, huge factor in my depression and eventual suicidal thoughts,” he added. “I developed [dietary] intolerances that would lead to existential depression on a daily basis. I would eat a certain thing and then all day I would feel like there was just no point.”
PAMA began in the Eighties as part of the Aspen Music Festival and focused on health issues among classical musicians before expanding to all genres and disciplines. “You Got This” panelist Patrick Gannon, a clinical and performance psychologist, said that there is an “emerging epidemic of suicide,” that affects a disproportionate amount of musicians: the suicide rate for musicians is three times higher than the national average.
PAMA experts suggested that physical and mental demands of the craft, lack of access to healthcare and a culture that romanticizes substance abuse as a symbol of being free-spirited are among the reasons that contribute to musicians and other creatives being more predisposed to mental health issues and suicide than their peers.
“There is this myth that you have to be anxious to be creative, that you have to be depressed to be a genius,” Blake said during the panel. “I can truly say that anxiety has never helped me create. And I’ve watched it destroy my friends’ creative process, too.”
Blake discussed undergoing eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR), which uses physical triggers to “reprocess” traumatic memories. He said the therapy “really broke the back of all the traumas and repressions that had led me to depression in the first place.” He also credited his girlfriend and her support in helping him shed unhealthy influences. “Honestly, a lot catharsis just came in telling lots of people to fuck off,” he said. “And saying no to constant touring.”
Blake said he is among the artists opening up about mental health issues because “we’ve reached a critical point.”
“We are the generation that’s watched several other generations of musicians turn to drugs and turn to excess and coping mechanisms that have destroyed them,” he said. “And there are so many high-profile people recently who have taken their own lives. So we, I think have a responsibility to talk about it and remove the stigma.”