20 Iconic Musicians Who Struggled With Depression

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Some of the greatest musicians of our time have struggled with depression and mental health issues.

And it’s not just a minority of musical superstars who suffer this way. A study from the University of Winchester found that 68.5% of musicians have experienced depression.

A number of factors impact the mental health of musicians. As many of the musicians below demonstrate, an artistic sensibility coupled with emotional sensitivity can be a factor.

But the study also highlights some less-noted key themes, including economic precarity, the stresses of touring, and feelings of one’s work being undervalued. These are just some of the contributing reasons why musicians are up to three times more likely to struggle with depression than the general public.

In this article, we’ll dig into the stories of twenty famous musicians who have managed to release some of their internal torment through their craft. Their words offer us an insight into their minds, helping fans and fellow artists to manoeuvre their own mental health issues.

Let’s find out more about these iconic musicians who have dealt with depression.

20. Sia 

Acclaimed singer-songwriter Sia has confronted depression and addiction throughout her whole life. Tragic life events have negatively impacted her mental health and she has claimed that being in the spotlight hasn’t helped her cope with her struggles. The artist said on Carpool Karaoke that people knowing intimate details about her life contributed to her choice of remaining mysterious as her fame grew.

Sia has supported various mental health charities and organisations over the years, contributing to their efforts to raise awareness and provide resources for those struggling with mental health issues. This became more prevalent after the backlash against her film ‘Music’ which tackled issues surrounding autism.

19. Janis Joplin

Janis Joplin

Known for her powerful voice and electrifying performances, Janis Joplin faced a constant struggle with depression and loneliness. Despite her success, she battled with feelings of inadequacy and succumbed to a drug overdose at the age of 27, adding her name to the infamous “27 Club.” 

Joplin always wanted to get more out of life, seemingly believing that the next thing would fill the hole she felt. In a letter she wrote to her family just after her 27th birthday, she says, “I managed to pass my 27th birthday without really feeling it… And I guess that’s what ambition is; it’s not all a depraved quest for position or money, maybe it’s for love.”

18. Jim Morrison

Jim Morrison

The enigmatic lead singer of The Doors, Jim Morrison was no stranger to self-destructive behaviour and depression. His introspective and poetic lyrics often hinted at his inner battles, which were tragically cut short when he died of drug-related heart failure at the age of 27.

Morrison’s bandmate Robby Krieger said in an interview “I think Jim had some real mental issues – manic depression, or whatever” and claimed the singer wanted to experience insanity. During The Doors’ peak, many considered Morrison to simply be “wild” and “crazy.” It wasn’t until years later that the truth of his state of mind became much more clear.

17. Michael Jackson

The “King of Pop” experienced immense fame and adoration throughout his extraordinary career, but behind the glittering facade, he grappled with profound loneliness and emotional struggles. Throughout his life, he faced accusations and controversies, which further added to his mental burdens, and he passed away unexpectedly at the age of 50.

Jackson’s unconventional childhood and relentless fame contributed to his mental downfall. In Elton John’s memoir, Me, he speaks about Jackson saying, “He was genuinely mentally ill, a disturbing person to be around. It was incredibly sad, but he was someone you couldn’t help: he was just gone, off in a world of his own, surrounded by people who only told him what he wanted to hear.”

16. Whitney Houston

best selling female artists of all time

With a voice that touched hearts worldwide, Whitney Houston battled depression and substance abuse throughout her career. Despite her immense talent, she faced endless personal struggles, and her untimely death at just age 48 left a void in the music industry. 

From her abusive relationship with fellow singer-songwriter Bobby Brown to her fight against addiction, Houston lived a life much different to the one presented to us. In Whitney: Can I Be Me, documentarian Nick Broomfield, says “I think the divide between who she was and what her public persona was becoming more and more difficult.”

15. George Michael

George Michael

A gifted musician and member of the duo Wham!, George Michael struggled with depression, anxiety, and self-doubt during his life. Despite his success, he faced scrutiny from the media and society, impacting his mental well-being.

The singer’s mental health took a hit after losing both his lover and later on, his mother. In an interview with GQ, Michael said, “I was so close to the edge all the time that I kept getting knocked back into the abyss, constantly looking over my shoulder wondering where the next blow would come from.” 

George Michael passed away at the age of 53, leaving fans mourning the loss of a true pop icon.

14. Chris Cornell

chris cornell

As the powerful voice behind Soundgarden and Audioslave, Chris Cornell’s battle with depression and substance abuse was well-known. 

Cornell’s depression began as a teenager. In an interview with SPIN, he said, “I had a bad PCP experience when I was 14 and I got panic disorder. From 14 to 16, I didn’t have any friends. I stayed home most of the time.”

Despite claiming to be better as he became an adult, the singer’s mental health issues were always a lingering demon. He eventually succumbed to his illness, committing suicide at the age of 52.

13. Layne Staley

As the lead vocalist of Alice in Chains, Layne Staley’s struggles with depression and drug addiction deeply influenced his music. Staley turned to drugs when his band experienced an extended period of inactivity despite their already significant success.

The singer told Rolling Stone magazine, “Drugs worked for me for years, and now they’re turning against me, now I’m walking through hell, and this sucks.” He attempted sobriety after the death of his friend Kurt Cobain, but eventually relapsed.

Sadly, Staley passed away at age 34 after ingesting a mixture of heroin and cocaine.

12. Amy Winehouse

amy winehouse

With her soulful voice and unique style, Amy Winehouse gained worldwide acclaim. However, her struggles with depression, self-harm, and addiction painted a sinister backdrop against her music.

Winehouse’s depression manifested in her childhood after struggling with an eating disorder and finding a lack of support from her parents. As her fame grew, so did her reliance on anti-depressants saying, “I don’t think I knew what depression was. I knew I felt funny sometimes and I was different. I think that’s a musician thing.”

The singer’s decline was, sadly, captured in the public eye with Winehouse succumbing to her illnesses at the young age of 27.

11. Chester Bennington

As the frontman of Linkin Park, Chester Bennington was known for his emotional lyrics that often reflected his battles with depression, trauma, and addiction.

In an interview with Louder Sound, Bennington said “In 2006, I had a choice between stopping drinking or dying. I did some counselling with the guys and they really opened up and told me how they felt. I had no idea that I had been such a nightmare.” 

Although the Linkin Park frontman ultimately lost his life to suicide, he was involved in charity work and advocacy for mental health. He co-founded the organization “Music for Relief,” which supported disaster relief and raised funds for mental health causes.

10. Avicii 

Swedish DJ and music producer, Avicii, struggled with mental health issues, including depression and anxiety. The pressures of the music industry and constant touring took a toll on his well-being, and he died by suicide at the age of 28, sparking conversations about mental health in the music community.

Avicii’s struggle with his mental health began as a teenager after he smoked marijuana for the first time and experienced what he thought was a psychosis. After this, the producer battled with derealisation and anxiety. Tragically, Avicii found that he couldn’t live with his negative mental health, taking his own life when he was 28 years old.

9. Lady Gaga 

lady gaga

Despite her flamboyant persona, Lady Gaga has been open about her struggles with depression, anxiety, and PTSD. She has used her platform to advocate for mental health awareness, inspiring many to seek help and destigmatize mental health challenges.

During an interview on The Today Show in 2016, Gaga told the host, “I suffer from a mental illness—I suffer from PTSD. I’ve never told anyone that before, so here we are.”

In addition to discussing her struggles with depression openly, Lady Gaga has been a prominent advocate for mental health awareness and support. She co-founded the “Born This Way Foundation” in 2011, which focuses on empowering youth, supporting their mental and emotional well-being, and combatting bullying.

8. Justin Bieber

justin bieber

As a teenage sensation who skyrocketed to fame, Justin Bieber faced immense pressure and scrutiny, leading to feelings of depression and emotional challenges, commonly seen in child stars. 

In his documentary, Justin Bieber: Next Chapter, the singer said, “I think that there were times where I was really, really suicidal, like really like ‘Man, is this pain ever gonna go away?’ It was so consistent, the pain was so consistent.” 

Bieber has openly discussed his struggles with depression and mental health. Knowing how it feels to be depressed, he has encouraged his fans to prioritise their mental well-being and seek help when needed.

7. Demi Lovato

The pop singer and actor, Demi Lovato, has been vocal about their experiences with depression, bipolar disorder, and addiction. Their openness about their mental health journey has been instrumental in reducing the stigma surrounding mental illness.

They said in an interview with Access Hollywood, “I wish that more people could understand from a point where it’s not a choice to have an addiction. And with depression, it’s not a choice.”

Lavato has used their platform to spread awareness and encourage others to seek help. In partnership with CAST Foundation, they started the “CAST Centers” to provide mental health and wellness resources to individuals seeking treatment.

6. Elton John

The legendary singer-songwriter, Sir Elton John, has spoken openly about his battles with depression and addiction. He has used his music and advocacy work to shed light on mental health issues and support various mental health charities.

In an interview with Rolling Stone, John discussed one of his suicide attempts saying, “It was a very stormy six months, after which I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I attempted suicide and various other things, during which Bernie and I wrote nil, absolutely nothing.”

Luckily for us, the songwriter did not manage to take his own life, and we now have a lifetime of music to thank him for. 

5. Billy Joel

billy joel

Throughout his successful career, Billy Joel has been candid about his struggles with depression and substance abuse. His music has often served as an outlet for expressing his emotional turmoil and has connected with fans on a personal level.

In an interview with the Telegraph, the singer said, “I was in New York on 9/11, and it had a devastating impact on me. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I went into a deep depression and started drinking. I lost faith in humanity.”

Despite struggling to always keep on top of his mental health, Joel claims that he doesn’t live a depressed life.

4. Britney Spears

The pop princess Britney Spears has faced well-documented struggles with mental health issues throughout her life. Her public breakdown in the mid-2000s brought attention to the pressures of fame and raised awareness about mental health in the entertainment industry.

Spears spoke to Harpers Bazaar saying, “I wrote back then, that I was lost and didn’t know what to do with myself. I was trying to please everyone around me because that is who I am deep inside.” 

While Britney Spears has faced public struggles, she has used her platform to raise awareness about mental health issues and advocate for greater understanding and compassion toward those dealing with mental health challenges.

3. Kanye West

saddest kanye songs

The prolific rapper and producer Kanye West has openly discussed his battles with depression and anxiety. His unfiltered approach to expressing his emotions has brought attention to the importance of mental health awareness in the hip-hop community. The rapper has reflected on his life and claimed, “I have suffered, I have been broken, I have known hardship, I have lost myself.”

While Kanye West has faced his share of controversy, he has also addressed mental health issues in his music and interviews. Through his lyrics and advocacy, he has raised awareness about the importance of mental health and seeking help when needed.

2. Kurt Cobain 

kurt cobain

The iconic frontman of Nirvana, Kurt Cobain, battled with depression and chronic health issues throughout his life. His music often reflected his inner turmoil, and he tragically took his own life at the age of 27, leaving behind a legacy that continues to inspire and resonate with many.

Cobain’s childhood was unstable and unhappy, leading to the frontman’s rocky mental health as an adult. Before his death, the songwriter was open about his health, claiming, “I really haven’t been happy for years. Even when we were playing, I was really feeling unhappy, and I think it’s just because I was so depressed.”

1. John Lennon

John Lennon remains one of the most famous and influential songwriters of all time. His time with The Beatles directly mirrored his bandmate McCartney’s positive tunes with a sombre, less optimistic catalogue of lyrics.

Lennon lost his life before he gained an official diagnosis however, we can gather clues from his music. For example, the 1960s track ‘Help!,’ despite its upbeat melody, was a cry for help from the artist, expressing he’s “been feeling down.” 

Through his music, Lennon managed to release years of trauma and, hopefully, helped him to ease the burden he carried with him throughout his life.

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