References to depression, suicide and mental health struggles in rap music have more than doubled over the past two decades, a new study revealed.
Researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill analysed lyric sheets from the 25 most popular rap songs in the US in 1998, 2003, 2008, 2013 and 2018.
The proportion of rap songs that referenced mental health more than doubled in the two decades from 1998 to 2018 – the year rap outsold country for the first time.
Songs are increasingly referencing depression and suicide while also mixing in metaphors about mental health struggles, said lead author Alex Kresovich.
Rappers, who are considered the ‘coolest people on Earth right now’, talking about and addressing mental health could help millions of young people, he added.
The stressed-out and vulnerable Geto Boys (pictures) rapping, ‘Mind Playing Tricks on Me,’ in 1991, was no longer a one-off in terms of mental health references, the team said
Researchers at Carolina say the increase in mental health messages from rap artists could shape the conversation around mental health for their young listeners who are at an increased risk of experiencing mental health issues.
LYRICS ON MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES
Researchers had to codify the meaning behind different rap lyrics.
Some were straight forward:
‘What’s takin’ so long? I’m getting’ anxious’.
This is about anxiety – specifically worry, nervousness, or unease, due to an imminent event.
Others required more study:
“Don’t get caught without one, coming from where I’m from…”
Is about environmental issues, specifically living conditions with everyday effects.
‘The fact that they are talking about mental health could have huge implications for how young people perceive mental health or how they look at themselves if they struggle with mental health,’ said Kresovich.
Psychological stress among 18 to 25 years old has reached new highs and suicide rates have climbed among black teenagers – a major portion of rap’s audience.
But the rap audience is a mix of listeners from all genders, races and varying socioeconomic groups which adds to artists’ power to influence, Kresovich said.
The artists are also largely their peers, he said. The average age of the artists behind the 125 rap songs analysed for the study was 28 years old.
Most lead artists were black men and nearly one-third of their songs referenced anxiety, 22 per cent referenced depression and 6 per cent referenced suicide.
True to its autobiographical style, rap music artists may be reflecting the distress felt by themselves and the people around them, authors say.
Francesca R. Dillman Carpentier, a professor at Hussman School of Journalism and Media, and Krescovich developed the study, along with UNC-Chapel Hill co-authors Daniel Riffe and Meredith K. Reffner Collins.
Krescovich, a former music producer, says that although rap has always been a personal and narrative music form, he could hear things changing.
The stressed-out and vulnerable Geto Boys rapping, ‘Mind Playing Tricks on Me,’ in 1991, was no longer a one-off.
He said emotions in rap music were increasingly being laid bare between the beats of so many chart-topping songs – by artists such as Drake, Post Malone, Juice Wrld, Eminem, Lil’ Wayne, Jay-Z and Kanye West.
In the songs Krescovich and Collins analysed and coded for the study, the most common mental health stressors were love and environmental issues.
A number of challenges faced the study authors including how to interpret the artists’ intended meaning behind lyrics.
Most surprising in the analysis of the decades of rap lyrics was the rise of mental health metaphors in the songs.
The researchers found the number of instances of mental health references in rap songs doubled over the past two decades – they samples tracks between 1998 and 2018
Emotions in rap music were increasingly being laid bare between the beats of so many chart-topping songs – by artists such as Drake, Post Malone, Juice Wrld, Eminem, Lil’ Wayne, Jay-Z and Kanye West (pictured), explained the team behind the study
Those metaphors could help to understand the language used to describe mental health by young people and provide them with support.
Phrases like ‘pushed to the edge,’ or ‘fighting my demons,’ may suggest anxiety without explicitly noting anxiety.
‘Using metaphors may be a safe way to avoid being judged,’ Kresovich says. ‘For men, especially men of colour, mental health is still stigmatised.
‘Artists are treading lightly and aren’t going to say, ‘I’m depressed.’
‘But what they will do is describe feelings in a way that others with depression can understand and relate to,’ he says, adding. ‘It also just may be really hard to rhyme the word ‘depression’ in a song.’
Across all years, 94 of the 125 total songs, that is 75 per cent, referenced negative emotion, and 57 of the songs with negative emotion referenced mental health.
Specifically, 35 of the total sample – about 28 per cent – referenced anxiety, 28 referenced depression, eight suicide, and 26 used at least 1 mental health metaphor.
The findings have been published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.
If you have been affected by this story, you can call the Samaritans on 116 123 or visit www.samaritans.org.
DEPRESSION AFFECTS ONE-IN-TEN PEOPLE AT SOME POINT
While it is normal to feel down from time to time, people with depression may feel persistently unhappy for weeks or months on end.
Depression can affect anyone at any age and is fairly common – approximately one in ten people are likely to experience it at some point in their life.
Depression is a genuine health condition which people cannot just ignore or ‘snap out of it’.
Symptoms and effects vary, but can include constantly feeling upset or hopeless, or losing interest in things you used to enjoy.
It can also cause physical symptoms such as problems sleeping, tiredness, having a low appetite or sex drive, and even feeling physical pain.
In extreme cases it can lead to suicidal thoughts.
Traumatic events can trigger it, and people with a family history may be more at risk.
It is important to see a doctor if you think you or someone you know has depression, as it can be managed with lifestyle changes, therapy or medication.
Source: NHS Choices