A few weeks ago, a series of tweets from Adegbenga Adejumointe aka Benga served to open the dialogue about mental health issues that run rampant in the music industry. No one is safe from them, but a particularly at risk population are many artists, industry professionals, and fans, who quite often fall hard from the struggles of trying to keep up with a fast-paced, quick to forget you, unforgiving environment. Benga’s recent interview with the Guardian sheds even more light on his personal story, to which many can relate.
Every individual that suffers from these issues will be able to see themselves in this story. It all starts with the break. Two years ago for Benga, when he broke down during the winter of 2013. In a state of mania (one of the ends of bipolar disorder, the other being depression, where senses and actions are EXTREMELY heightened), he found himself giving away everything, including a rose gold Rolex, and everything in his apartment. In a period of four months, he gave it all away.
He lost everything, and that manic episode resulted in his retirement last february. His official diagnoses are as follows: bipolar, which he attributes to drugs, and schizophrenia, which he attributes to touring.
He is not the only one that has lost it all, or almost lost everything. There are so many of us brought to a breaking point, forced to exit stage left. Most of us don’t ever return. Some of us die.
Benga talks about the music scene and how is based on a party culture of outdoing each other on extreme and idiotic benders. The statistics on drug use in the scene are staggering, and the artists get caught up in this vicious cycle of partying, and doing them to stay awake through grueling schedules. Substances so easily accessible to the artists, in every city. Practically placed on a sliver platter and served up to them as part of their riders. From the time they land, at every show they play, and well after the show to the after party and after the party too, even into the next city where they do it all over again. The ‘party’ never ends, and Benga isn’t the first to have found himself sucked into this vicious cycle. Some aren’t fortunate enough to make it out, and others are struggling and too afraid to talk about it.
This brings up so many relevant issues, opening up this can of worms that will hopefully never again be contained. This fear of discussing issues is very real. “This industry is all about perception: a lot of people wouldn’t want anybody to think they’re weak, or that they can’t do what they do, or that they’re not cool,” says Benga. “Nobody wants to come clean, let alone an artist.”
So many artists in similar situations. So many fans. So many people.
For many it takes such catastrophic circumstances, a rock bottom. After breaking down for so long, we hit a breaking point. Benga was arrested 3/14, and it was then that he realized he needed help. He talks about not wanting to scare people, but is making sure that this confession is taken seriously. And while not all mental health issues are connected to a substance abuse problem, Benga notes that it was that way for him. Many use substances as self-medication when they can’t find any other escape from the mania, depression, or anxiety. It is all so destructive and self-destructive, and ultimately leads to something such as an arrest, hospitalization, or worse.
“A lot of people are scared. But it needs to be done.”
Following his arrest, Benga was hospitalized, which he notes was ultimately the right decision. Additionally, he is on meds to help ‘control his thoughts’ and keep him centered. None of these are necessarily the solutions for anyone out there suffering. Everyone’s treatment plan is different when it comes to mental health issues. The important thing to take away from all of this is that if you or someone you know is suffering, talk to a professional. These problem will never, ever go away on their own.
“I know I’m going to battle with this my whole life. I know I can’t touch drugs and I can’t be stupid.” We learn in this article how Benga’s illness has changed him. He has even been able to get back to his music, and seems to have evolved as an artist. The scariest part of getting help and getting better is recognizing you need it in the first place. It is terrifying, but no one is alone in this fight. We have been there.
“We think of mental patients in films; we need to see people like myself. People need to see that I can function and I’m not manic now, and that this can happen to anyone…“I would plead with anybody who sees anything wrong with their mates, their family members, to act on it straight away,” he says. “That way you can limit the damage that’s done. Too many people are blase. I see it in other people now more than ever. I see the mood swings and the paranoia and I think to myself: ‘You’re on a bad road.’ I can see it in some A-list celebrities, and I think: ‘Who’s around them, who’s going to help them take that step to sort it out?’”
I have before mentioned that this issue is extremely personal to me, and I write this article with tears in my eyes. Tears of sadness for all of us going through these issues, but also of joy and pride. The level of inspired I feel right now is too high. Benga has made it so none of us have to hide from this, and all of us can come together to face this issue head on. This discussion started with one influential man making a very bold and courageous statement, and it has only just begun. In fact, other media outlets are catching on, and doing their part to raise awareness for mental health issues. It is sad that music and mental health are so closely linked, but it is time we do something to help those in need. We cannot allow this to go on any longer. Not one more minute.
Want to know what you can do to help #EndTheStigma? Click on my name, anonymous superhero, and hit me up on social media. Learn how you can join the fight. Follow Benga on social media, and let him know what you think about the interview. Here is the full article.
H/T: The Guardian