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Why NME Got It Wrong with Stormzy

Mental illness affects everyone in some shape or form: one in five adults experience some kind of mental health disorder every year.

With this statistic in mind, it’s no surprise that some of those people are those prominent within the music industry, people who, at the end of the day, despite their status and fame, are still ordinary people. More and more artists are revealing their troubles with mental illness, but why is it such a big deal for people in the music industry to be open about it?

Just this week, Kasabian’s Tom Meighan expressed in an interview that during a ‘shit 2016’ he was making himself ill and needed to “sort his head out”. Citing unhappiness and the people he associated with, as well as the death of a close friend, Meighan’s admission is important. There is a stigma attached to anyone who says they have a mental illness, the existence of which is quite frankly loathsome, but even more so for men. For many, a man suffering from mental illness is a sign of weakness, something that is shameful and feeble. However, with more admissions from the likes of Meighan within the music industry, a man whose band has a strong male following, fingers crossed this can change and fast. But he’s not the only one of late to be so frank about his experiences.

Adele revealed her struggles with postnatal depression recently, with Lady Gaga writing an open letter regarding her struggles with PTSD; Selena Gomez took time off to deal with her issues regarding depression and anxiety, while it has been long reported in the media of Zayn Malik’s ongoing stage anxiety, last year pulling out a concert with a long and honest apology and explanation. These are just a few examples, but also some of the most high-profile ones of recent times, and they prove a worthy point.

Everyone tends to see the lifestyle of a pop or rock star as one that can only possibly come with happiness and perks, joy at attaining such success and living on cloud nine every single day. This is not the case. Mental illness doesn’t care whether you’re a Grammy-award winning singer or Mrs Smith next door: it can and will affect you, if and when it wants to. High profile celebrities are just as affected by things as we, the ordinary folk, are too, whether that be having a really shitty day at work or the death of a loved one – that’s life.

People in the music industry coming out about their experiences has been both insightful but also extremely poignant. In a world where everything is operated through social media, where every source of news is now a link or a tweet, those people that we watch on a screen, whose posters we have on our walls, whose music we listen to when we’re feeling down ourselves; these are the people who make a difference with their admissions, and one for the better.

However, it is easy to see why some may not feel its best to be so open with their experiences. Stormzy has had a rollercoaster few months, with an incredibly successful debut album and thousands of new fans by the day, and recently in a Channel 4 interview he inspired a heck of a lot more by explaining the challenges he faced with depression, making him realise how “fragile we are as humans”. While he was at first reluctant to make this admission, he ultimately decided it was best because “if there’s anyone out there going through it, I think to see that I went through it would help.” His attitude and take on the entire matter is refreshing. Many have lauded Stormzy the world over for his honesty but some have taken it too far, most notably the NME.

This week’s issue of the free music news mag sees Stormzy on the cover, with “DEPRESSION: IT’S TIME TO TALK” slapped along the bottom to highlight the overriding theme of the issue. However, what on first glance seems like a great awareness campaign (which, in theory, it could have been), is actually a demonstration of utter disrespect. Stormzy berated the NME on Twitter, revealing that he had not given them permission to a) use his photo for their cover, and b) use his own personal experience of depression as part of it. It became clear pretty quickly that he had not given them an interview and instead the NME had used his Channel 4 News interview as something with which to base an entire feature, including ‘wise words’ from other celebrities including Bastille and the aforementioned Gaga. This is wrong on so many levels:

– Exploiting someone, regardless of their stature, for their mental health issues in order to obtain a coveted cover star is abhorrent, and something which any publication in their right mind should be ashamed of for even thinking of doing

– Not asking the permission of your cover star for both the cover AND for the accompanying story, especially one of such a serious nature, is seriously dodgy journalism

– Stormzy is just a person. Forget his music, forget his success, he is just an ordinary, real life person. No matter who it was featured on the cover, it would negatively affect them. As he tweeted yesterday, ‘I KNOW it will help others but just imagine a personal battle of yours being published on the front of a magazine without your permission’. That’s your argument against this entire thing right there.

Using someone’s story like this is low. It’s distasteful. It’s pure malpractice. The work that Stormzy has done to promote mental illness within the media, especially for young black men like himself, could have easily been undone by this, but luckily for us, Stormzy has set the record straight and I know of no one who would think to support the other side. What NME did was, in his own words, ‘foul’ and ‘below the belt’, and their defence of being a free publication is a load of bull when they can still make a hell of a lot of money through advertising.

Being open and honest about mental illness is one of the ways we can help alleviate at least a small part of our mental illnesses should we be suffering from them; heck, what do you think counselling and therapy are for? Being open and honest about mental illness in the media is just as hard as being open about it to your family and friends, especially being immediate targets for any kind of response online, and the fact that so many artists are doing so is absolutely wonderful to behold. We should have no shame, no qualms, no nothing: we should be honest about who we are and what’s troubling us, and who knows – maybe that’s the thing we need to seek help in the first place.

Get Volume #17 here.

Words by Kirstie Sutherland

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