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James Blake
James BlakeCourtesy of Polydor

James Blake opens up about ‘suicidal thoughts’ and mental health on tour

‘There are so many high-profile people recently who’ve taken their own lives. So we, I think, have a responsibility... to remove the stigma’

James Blake was a guest speaker for the Performing Arts Medicine Association (PAMA) – an organisation that focuses on the improvement of health care for musicians, dancers, and actors – at their annual symposium in Orange County, California yesterday. Billboard report that during a panel called “You Got This: Managing the Suicide Crisis in the Arts Population”, Blake opened up about his own experiences with depression and anxiety, and that he had “suicidal thoughts” during his early tours as a result of his life on the road.

Blake’s breakout release, 2010’s CMYK EP, came out while he was in his early 20s. “I was taken away from normal life essentially at an age where I was half-formed,” he said on the panel. “(On the road) your connection to other people becomes surface level. 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.”

He also discussed the importance of eating healthily. “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. I developed (dietary) intolerances that would lead to existential depression on a daily basis. I would eat a certain thing and then all day I would feel like there was just no point.”

Blake explained that he found relief in EMDR therapy, an experimental treatment of ‘reprocessing’ traumatic memories, which “really broke the back of all the traumas and repressions that had led me to depression in the first place”. He also emphasised the positive influence of his girlfriend, the importance of cutting out people who enabled toxic behaviour, and knowing when to say ‘no’ when necessary. “Honestly, a lot of catharsis just came in telling lots of people to fuck off. And saying no. Saying no to constant touring. No money will ever be enough.”

“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,” Blake said on the panel. “And there are so many high-profile people recently who’ve taken their own lives. So we, I think, have a responsibility to talk about it and to remove the stigma.”

PAMA started in the 1980s and was initially focused on health issues for classical musicians, but its remit has since expanded to cover performing artists across disciplines. The “You Got This” panel was made to address studies that report higher levels of anxiety and depression among musicians. The charity Help Musicians offer mental health advice for musicians in the UK.

In May, Blake opened up about his concerns with the ‘sad boy’ tag that’s often used to describe his music: “I can’t help but notice, as I do whenever I talk about my feelings in a song, that the words ‘sad boy’ are used to describe it,” he wrote on Twitter. “I’ve always found that expression unhealthy and problematic when used to describe men just openly talking about their feelings... We are already in an epidemic of male depression and suicide. We don’t need any further proof that we have hurt men with our questioning of their need to be vulnerable and open.”

Revisit The Black Madonna’s guide to managing your mental wellbeing while touring.

If you are struggling with depression or thoughts of suicide, you can call Samaritans 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on 116 123 in the UK, or the Lifeline on 1-800-273-8255 in the USA.