Music has been an integral part of human civilisation for a very long time. Be it sad days or joyous occasions, you’ll find music that suits your mood and situation. There’s no doubt that music can elevate mental health problems, but it also has the potential to worsen them.
The most popular rap songs in the United States are increasingly referencing to depression and suicide, mixing in metaphors about mental health struggles, according to a study conducted at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and published in JAMA Pediatrics.
Alex Kresovich, the lead author of the study says, “These artists are considered the ‘coolest’ people on earth right now. 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, which we know millions and millions of young people do.”
The proportion of rap songs that referenced mental health more than doubled in the two decades from 1998 to 2018.
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.
Psychological stress among those from 18 to 25 years of age has reached a new high and suicide rates have climbed among black teenagers who are a significant portion of rap music’s large and growing 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, according to Kresovich.
“The artists are also largely their peers”, Kresovich said. The average age of the artists behind the 125 rap songs analysed for the study was 28 years old. Researchers analysed lyric sheets from the 25 most popular rap songs in the US in 1998, 2003, 2008, 2013 and 2018 for the study. 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. Krescovich, a former music producer, says that although rap has always been a personal and narrative music form, he could hear things changing.
In the songs Krescovich and Collins analysed and coded for the study, the most common mental health stressors were love and environmental issues. But, the study authors faced the challenge of interpreting artists’ intended meaning behind their lyrics and the analysis could not determine if listeners consider the messages as positive or negative.
Most surprising in the analysis was the rise of mental health metaphors in rap songs. Those metaphors could help to understand the language used to describe mental health. 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 stigmatized. 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.”
Music truly is powerful and gives words to so many of the most complicated emotions.
(With inputs from ANI)