Masculinity, mental health and Kerrang! magazine

by Rhian Jones

Masculinity and mental health are not issues usually found within the pages of veteran RAWK music magazine Kerrang! but an excellent feature this week bucked that trend. Written by editor James McMahon, a Biffy Clyro interview ticked all the relevant feature boxes (album, tour, inspiration blah blah blah) and then a huge amount (of ground-breaking) more.

The ground-breaking part came as front man Simon Neil talks on the bands journey, and a “bad patch” sheds light on his state of mind “always a huge thinker, always a huge worrier”. McMahon recalls listening to their 2007 album Puzzle and finding “the secret depression club’s code words” in the songs, “where my songs come from is probably that part of my brain that isn’t quite working right” explains Neil.

Now depression is no secret, but due to stigmas attached to said illness (abnormal, weak, to name a few) it’s not a usual feature of interviews where the subject’s livelihood doesn’t depend on a convincing sob story. Couple that with the testosterone fuelled job title of ‘Rock Star of Big Guitar Rock Band’ and you could be left with a potentially damaging change in public perception of said Rock Star (weak). Biffy Clyro don’t want to be known as that band with the depressed lead singer, they want to be known as that band that make right good music. Secondly, they don’t want to be accused of using a sob story to peddle their new album.

Despite this, Neil still agreed to publishing that part of the conversation. And McMahon backs him up with lines alluding to his own issues. Both doing so in order to help other people who might be fellow sufferers.

Suicide is the second most common way for a man between the ages of 15 and 34 to die (only just outstripped by road deaths). About 900 young men take their own lives each year, and they account for around 75% of all suicides in this age group. Yet according to sources, less than 20% of young men who commit suicide have had any contact with either their GP or mental health services in the previous year.  Typically, men don’t seek help when they have mental health problems. But the NHS says research shows that talking can help people recover from depression and cope better with stress. The feature concludes with Neil saying that meeting his wife who accepts “the way he is (a high and low kind of guy)” has helped him feel better.

The most important thing about the Kerrang! article is that it’s printed in a magazine generally aimed at teenagers – male teens in particular. And the important words are said by someone who teenagers deem as normal, masculine and look up to and respect. Suddenly, being honest about your worries becomes cool. And talking about it can stop feelings of isolation and helplessness – things which when coupled with depression, can have a potentially fateful ending.

Says the NHS: “some people still think that depression is trivial and not a genuine health condition. They’re wrong. Depression is a real illness with real symptoms, and it’s not a sign of weakness or something you can “snap out of” by “pulling yourself together”.” Yet with the right treatment and support, most people can make a full recovery. Says Neil: “I do want people to know that it’s fine to talk about your worries and don’t be afraid to ask for help”.

On the same line, female rapper Angel Haze has this year been tipped for big things in 2013 after releasing her dark rhymes about a childhood stock full of abuse. Speaking so candidly about what she went through, and how she’s come out the other side can (and will) inspire others that there’s light at the end of a tunnel, that it’s wrong and perhaps most importantly that it’s okay to talk about it.

Since the Biffy feature has been printed, Twitter has been inundated with compliments, blog posts and readers sharing their own personal experiences. A lot of people have started talking about depression in a very public forum, because a very cool man, music magazine and band have said it’s okay to. If respected people in the public eye did this more often, it starts breeding a generation who know it’s fine to talk about their worries and who are far more likely to listen and refrain from judging others who might want to talk about theirs. And that’s where journalism, fame and music achieve their greatest potential.

All hail to James McMahon, Simon Neil and Kerrang! magazine for an excellent piece of writing. You’ve got until Tuesday until the issue leaves the shelves, go buy!

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