Losing It: Rappers and Mental Health

 

It seems rappers

are losing it these days. 

Over

the past weeks and months, the news headlines have been flooded with

stories of Hip-Hop artists receiving treatment for mental illness or

impairment, including Gucci Mane, Charles Hamilton, and longtime troubled

rapper DMX.

For

the most part, this isn’t MC institutionalization Lindsay Lohan-style.

Critics say the cries for help are publicity stunts or convenient ways

to dodge jail time. In fact, Gucci Mane, two weeks off a psychiatric

evaluation, tattooed an ice cream cone on his face while promoting his

mixtape, 2 Time, with DJ Love Dinero.

Others

say the recent meltdowns signal a bigger problem among scores of untreated

people, especially Black men. In rap, crazy sometimes equals cool; still,

experts agree that when mental illness goes unchecked, it can lead to

all sort of issues, including depression, paranoia, violence, and suicide.

“When

psychiatric disorders are not diagnosed and treated, they can have a

significant impact on the individual, their family and friends, and

society,” Dr. Colleen A. Ewing, a Licensed Clinical Psychologist with

F.A.C.E. Psychological Services, recently told AllHipHop.com. “Untreated

mental illnesses can also be a burden on society, causing loss of work

productivity, increased levels of homelessness, and interactions with

the criminal justice system,” Dr. Ewing added.

Records

show that in the past five years, Gucci Mane has been arrested and jailed

five times in Georgia, for charges ranging from aggravated assault to

aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. In early January, his lawyer

told an Atlanta judge his client was mentally incompetent to speak for

himself during a probation violation hearing. The judge ordered Gucci

to a nearby psychiatric and drug dependency hospital to undergo evaluation.

Just last week, he was arrested again for pushing a woman out of a moving

car, an incident that originally happened in January.

Gifted

but tragic rapper DMX has a well-known history of drug abuse and brushes

with the law. He has been incarcerated 13 times, including at least

once each year for the past decade, for infractions from drug to guns

to illegal pit bull possession. His December visit to an Arizona mental

health unit was ordered after his most recent arrest for violating probation

by drinking alcohol during a concert.

Theories

over the years have said DMX suffers from bipolar disorder, in addition

to his clear penchant for crack and liquor. His altered states of being

might be the gift and the curse that lend brilliance and tragedy to

his lyrics; a tortured soul often makes for the best material – think

the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard. Presently, Dr. Ewing said there are more

people experiencing mental health issues than ever – and many of them

are functioning and sometimes excelling in traditional society.

“There

are many more households led by single parents, and there is less of

an extended family. As a result, many individuals do not have support

systems in place that normally would have enabled them to cope with

stress,” said Dr. Ewing. “They develop a maladaptive reaction to

the stress, such as depression or anxiety. To help them manage these

symptoms, many persons will turn to drugs and/or alcohol,“ she said.

“And

not to mention the pushing and pulling that occurs with artists of various

levels of popularity from sex and drugs being contextual staples, to

the proverbial, fake ‘yes’ men and women who laugh at all of their

jokes and look upon them as if they were living reflections of human

perfection,” said Dr. James M. Ballard III. Dr. Ballard, a licensed

clinical psychologist practicing in Maryland, presents on topics related

to the mental health of performing artists, i.e., rappers, vocalists,

and musicians, etc. at music conferences, workshops, and seminars, and

works independently with artists and groups/bands.

Sometimes,

with the help of people like Dr. Ballard or encouragement from others,

rappers seek help voluntarily. This past summer rapper Charles Hamilton

checked himself into New York Presbyterian Hospital, citing the need

for “peace of mind” as the reason for his stay. From inside the

hospital, he gave rambling but coherent press interviews comparing the

music industry to a psych ward.

Dr.

Ewing noted, “The music industry is in itself an arena that constantly

exposes an individual to high levels of stress – these stressors can

include ongoing ‘beefs’ with other artists, constantly being in

the spotlight, your image and music constantly being scrutinized and

criticized, people holding unrealistic role model expectations of you,

and having to maintain a particular persona.”

“Additionally,

a music artist has to continually produce new music and stay relevant

as the music industry changes. Many artists have to deal with these

stressors at young ages, when they have not developed adequate coping

skills, do not have strong support systems in place, etc,” said

Dr. Ewing.

“Artists’

time is no longer theirs; their issues are considered within the framework

of the bottom line,” said Dr. Ballard. “Artists may be tired, have

the flu, be anxious, be depressed, be hoarse, miss their families and/or

children, be experiencing trouble recalling their lyrics, be high or

drunk, doubt themselves as people, or be experiencing an assortment

of other issues, but regardless, the show must go on,” he added.

To

top it off, mental illness has a stigma, especially in the Black community

where historically, seeking help for mental or emotional problems is

seen as a sign of weakness. Dr. Yasser A. Payne, asst. professor of

Black American Studies at University of Delaware, is not quick to write

off rappers’ instability with the stigma. “’Mental illness’

is strong language – I would argue the mind is ‘challenged,’ and

the mind and spirit have adapted to traumatic events,” he told AllHipHop.

“Also,

it’s difficult to capture to what extent Black youth and, in particular,

street life-oriented Black men are challenged with Post Traumatic Stress

Disorder (PTSD), given that Black men have the highest turnover rate

in therapy – something like a 90% turnover rate,” he noted. Dr. Payne,

who has studied the complex lives of urban Black men, added that many

rappers, like other Black men growing up in the streets, can suffer

from the same PTSD effects as soldiers returning from a war-zone.

“PTSD

is vastly unstudied in the context of street life-oriented Black men,

and may be the way to understand mental health in this population,”

he said. “Dr. Joy DeGruy Leary, a social work scholar is pretty popular

for coining the term ‘Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome,’ which underscores

how exposure to violence and other forms of urban stressors have deeply

impacted the psyches, attitudes, and behaviors of Black youth.“

Whether

it’s from industry pressure, an undiagnosed problem, or growing up

fatherless in drug and crime-infested neighborhoods, something does

seem to be going wrong in the minds of rappers at a higher rate these

days. Awareness and therapy are keys to managing their issues. Ironically,

in the zany world of Hip-Hop, rapper meltdowns sometimes lead to critically

acclaimed, platinum-selling albums like Kanye’s Beautiful Dark

Twisted Fantasy.

Mental illness is no laughing matter.

AllHipHop.com cares, and we offer the following

resources for more information: National Alliance on Mental Illness

(www.NAMI.org), the American Psychological Association

(www.APA.org), and local community mental health centers.

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