Breaking mental health stigma through music

Breaking mental health stigma through music

Written on 05/03/2021
Emily Ruth

Written by Emily Ruth

Five years ago, I was in a much different place. Consumed with grief and pain, sinking deeper into anxiety and depression, it was hard to imagine a way out.

I like to think of my life in seasons—I always have. So when I look back, I see chunks of time, rather than individual events. Five years ago, when I began writing the music that would one day make up the album I’m now releasing, I was in what I considered to be the darkest season of my life.

Having recently gone through a major life transition and experienced a painful heartbreak, I felt like I was a broken person. Anxiety, which I had struggled with most of my life, was at an all-time high, making it hard to connect with others and leading to depression. I was angry with myself, and with God. I didn’t know how to cope with the hand I’d been given.

I had started songwriting a number of years before, but during that dark time it became a lifeline for me. There weren’t a lot of songs out there addressing anxiety, depression, or pain in ways that resonated with me—especially in the Christian music scene.

Writing my own songs was a way to communicate my heart and my pain to God honestly. My songs became prayers—desperate cries for God to meet me in the pain and not to leave me there.

Over the next two years, I wrote through the counselling sessions and prayer times, the agony and moments of joy. And I started to heal. A few years in, it was revealed to me that God was speaking to me through the music I was writing. When I was at my lowest and felt He had abandoned me, He was speaking to me, clear as day, through the words on the page.

When this “call and response” theme became clear in my songs, I felt compelled to share my testimony. I chose ten songs that I felt told this story and shared them with a small group of friends. From there, I organized a night of music at my home church. Then I began sharing my music at open mic nights, vocal competitions, and events.

Suddenly, these songs I thought would never see the light of day were being shared publicly. Everywhere I’d go, I would be asked, “Where can we listen to your music?” So, I started thinking about recording the songs professionally.

From that point on I felt I was just taking one step at a time in obedience to where I felt God was leading me. I started recording my songs professionally, performing live, and developing myself artistically. I began publicly sharing about my struggles with anxiety, and where the gospel fits into that story.

I was alternately humbled and encouraged, learning to trust God and doing my best to be faithful with what He had given me. My hope was that every time I shared my songs, at least one person would feel less alone because of them. I pray my music, which is so personal to me, will give words for those times of voiceless struggle.

Now, I’m finally releasing these songs, these pieces of my heart and story, into the world.

My first single “How Long” is based on my testimony and Psalm 13:1-2, which says, “How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?”

“How Long” comes from a place of longing, pain, and asking God where He is in the midst of it all. The evidence of His good grace is that I can hear this song, remember that pain, and declare with confidence that He did not leave me there. He had a purpose and a plan, and He never let go of me.

Last year was a hard one for many people. Whatever your experience of it was, wherever you’re at in your relationship with God right now, He desires to hear from you—the good, the bad, and the ugly. Don’t hold back. He isn’t afraid of your pain.

Listen to “How Long” on YouTube, Spotify, or iTunes, or wherever you stream music.

Photograph: Emily Christine Photography.