NEWS

How Rap Music Is Lifting the Stigma of Mental Illness

man looking at reflection in a CD

Verywell / Bailey Mariner

  • The messages in hip-hop songs are shifting to address mental health concerns.
  • Many popular rap artists are incorporating their experiences with anxiety, depression, and PTSD into their lyrics.
  • Black culture experts believe that these messages will help to remove the stigma from mental health and encourage more people to seek help for their disorders.

You wouldn't traditionally associate rap music with the topic of mental health, but many contemporary hip-hop artists are using their songs to share personal struggles and advance the conversation surrounding the destigmatization of mental illness.

A recent analysis published in JAMA Pediatrics looked at the lyrics of 125 songs from 1998 to 2018 with the intention of finding a correlation between music and the increase in mental health concerns in young men, mainly young Black men. What they found is that many popular songs reference anxiety, depression, stress, suicide, or used a metaphor to describe mental health.

According to the study, “Rap artists are among the most recognizable celebrities in the U.S., serving as role models to an increasingly diverse audience of listeners. Through their lyrics, these artists have the potential to shape mental health discourse and reduce stigma.” 

Researchers found that in 1998, 32% of popular songs discussed mental health, and in 2018, that number doubled. They reviewed songs by popular artists like Jay-Z, Eminem, and Lil’ Wayne, and relationships, police brutality, and environmental conditions were prevalent themes.

Experts: It’s All Good 


According to psychotherapist Alanna Gardner, MFT, “There’s a positive impact of vulnerability through your art. You’re bound to help someone else add language and feeling to their lived experience. That’s always powerful for people who are listening.”

The impact of rap is especially important in urban communities, where up to 90% of residents battle lifelong trauma, and 40% suffer from PTSD.

DuShaun Branch, trauma-informed yoga teacher

In Black communities, we are taught to hold our tears in, be strong, don't share our business, and we hold all of our pain in. In my teen yoga classes and adult circles we talk about it often, and we talk about the harm it has caused.

— DuShaun Branch, trauma-informed yoga teacher


Gardner, who lives in Philadelphia, explains that rap music has always tackled the tough topics. “There’s been a history of mental health in hip-hop music—like Geto Boys’ ‘My Mind Playing Tricks on Me’, but we’re just now noticing since so many more rappers are being open and naming their experience for what it is like depression and anxiety.”

The song she references is actually from 1991, seven years before popular songs like “Changes” by Tupac, which speaks to the internal and external stressors of being a Black man in the US. 

“It helps to normalize what it’s like to live with mental or emotional health” concerns, says Gardner. “I’ve heard lyrics where rappers name drop the type of meds they’re on. It’s all a way of helping people feel like they’re not alone living with mental health-related issues.” One song, which is hip-hop adjacent, is called Bupropion. Bupropion is a generic form of the antidepressant Wellbutrin

These Messages Are Reaching Youth

A 2020 study by the American Psychological Association found that Generation Z expressed a higher than average amount of mental distress. While the pandemic and social distance learning increased anxiety and depression, these factors alone did not account for the increase in mental health concerns in young adults since 2007.

According to Arthur C. Evans Jr., PhD, the APA’s chief executive officer, “As a society, we must galvanize our resources to support teens and young adults. We need to stand with them to fight systemic injustices, which can be a source of stress relief, while supporting them in building their resilience. The pandemics of racism and COVID will not be overcome quickly. We all need to learn skills to help us manage our stress while we fight for a society that is more equitable, resilient, and innovative.” 

DuShaun Branch, a community organizer and trauma-informed yoga teacher based in Chicago, says she gets to see firsthand the impact of reaching young people where they are. “In my work, I see the stigma around talking about mental health issues. In Black communities, we are taught to hold our tears in, be strong, don't share our business, and we hold all of our pain in. In my teen yoga classes and adult circles we talk about it often, and we talk about the harm it has caused. Frankly, we're tired of it.”

Alanna Gardner, MFT

I’ve heard lyrics where rappers name drop the type of meds they’re on. It’s all a way of helping people feel like they’re not alone living with mental health related issues.

— Alanna Gardner, MFT


Branch, also a restorative justice circle keeper, says that it is important for people children admire to normalize these conversations. “In my teen yoga classes, I lead hip-hop classes, and I have the teens pick the songs that help them get calm. They pick a lot of drill artists like G Herbo, Young Durk. These are the people who are from where they are from, experienced life like them, and now they are also being vulnerable.” 

G Herbo released an album this year titled "PTSD: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder," and it includes the emotionally charged tracks "Gangsta’s Cry," "PTSD," "Feelings," and "Intuition." 

One song made waves in 2017 with the intention to tackle suicidal ideations. The song, 1-800-273-8255 by Logic, is actually the phone number of the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. The song is conversational, and it starts out with a somber message—the singer does not want to live, and he does not think his life matters.

The first chorus says: 


“I don't wanna be alive, I don't wanna be alive
I just wanna die today, I just wanna die
I don't wanna be alive, I don't wanna be alive
I just wanna die
And let me tell you why” 

The second chorus is the response:

"I want you to be alive, I want you to be alive
You don't gotta die today, you don't gotta die
I want you to be alive, I want you to be alive
You don't gotta die, now let me tell you why"


By the end of the song, the message changes, and the singer says, “I finally want to be alive.” 

On World Mental Health Day, the Today Show’s Carson Daly interviewed Logic, and he shared his struggles with severe anxiety.  His advice for dealing with mental health: "Get it out. Don't keep it inside." He continued, “Anything that anybody can be going through alone, in the depths of their mind, and they feel like they can't get out of it.” 

What This Means For You

The study’s conclusion states that more research needs to be done to determine if these prevalent themes could have a positive or negative impact, but many say that these messages are necessary, no matter how they are received. 

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3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Gillikin C, Habib L, Evces M, Bradley B, Ressler KJ, Sanders J. Trauma exposure and PTSD symptoms associate with violence in inner city civilians. J Psychiatr Res. 2016;83:1-7. doi:10.1016/j.jpsychires.2016.07.027

  3. American Psychological Association. Stress in America™ 2020: A National Mental Health Crisis.