James Blake Speaks Out About Touring with Mental Illness

Experts say suicide is an epidemic among musicians

During Performance Arts Medicine Association’s (PAMA) annual symposium on Sunday, James Blake spoke about how he handles his mental illness.

He believes that always being on the road made large contributions to his depression and anxiety.

“Your connection to other people becomes surface level,” he said during a panel called ‘You Got This: Managing the Suicide Crisis in the Arts Population.’ “So if you were only in town for one day and someone asked you how you are, you go into the good stuff … which generally doesn’t involve how anxious you feel [or] how depressed you feel.”

Blake also explained that constant bad eating habits of touring made his mental health suffer.

“I would say that chemical imbalance due to diet and the deterioration of my health was a huge, huge factor in my depression and eventual suicidal thoughts,” he said. “I would eat a certain thing and then all day I would feel like there was just no point.”

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Blake also said that the stereotype of needing to be depressed to create also adds to negative stigma surrounding mental illness.

“There is this myth that you have to be anxious to be creative, that you have to be depressed to be a genius,” he said. “I can truly say that anxiety has never helped me create. And I’ve watched it destroy my friends’ creative process, too.”

During the panel, Blake said that therapy has helped him, and “saying no to constant touring.”

Another panelist speaking at PAMA was Patrick Gannon, a clinical and performance psychologist, told listeners that there is an “emerging epidemic of suicide.” This epidemic is primarily effecting musicians, saying that for for them the suicide rate is three times higher than the national average.

Other PAMA experts say that the rigorous physical demands that come with being a musician, lack of access to healthcare, and the culture of partying and substance abuse in the community are all contributing factors.

Blake also said during the panel that he feels a level of responsibility to speak out about mental health.

“We are the generation that’s watched several other generations of musicians turn to drugs and turn to excess and coping mechanisms that have destroyed them,” he said. “And there are so many high-profile people recently who have taken their own lives. So we, I think have a responsibility to talk about it and remove the stigma.”