“Talking is key”: Linguistics opens up about mental health

Photo credit: Myles Burrell

There is never a need to ‘man up’. Never feel like you can’t talk about anything. Be there for each other…

If you’ve followed Linguistics on social media lately, you will already know how open and frank he is about mental health and his own personal experiences fighting it. With one in four of us statistically likely to experience a mental health problem in our lifetime, his voice and support will resonate with many of us. If not personally then through loved ones, friends and family.

For Linguistics his experience was very much personal. Suffering anxiety and depression for all of his adult life, he experienced a breakdown two years ago which left him heavy in the darkest thoughts imaginable. To put it simple, if it wasn’t for the support of his family and friends, he might not be here today.

It’s a far cry from confident, funny and sharp MC you see on stage with Friction, hearing spitting on tracks with the likes of Spor, Joe Ford, Hybrid Minds or Fourward, or used to watch hosting our show The Drop. But this sums up just how scarily rampant mental health can be; just because someone might seem okay on the outside, they might be tearing their own mind to pieces internally. As Linguistics explains in this interview, we become experts at hiding things.

It’s a situation that’s especially rife in music as creative individuals run themselves through vicious self-critical cycles, combat performance nerves, endure long periods on the road with little sleep and way too many unhealthy distractions. Luckily there are some exceptional organisations established to help people in the music industry regain control of their lives and not let their health take control of them.

Linguistics is now in a much healthier, happier place. During his recovery he promised himself he would do what he can to help others suffering. No surprises; he’s a man of his word.

Linguistics is one of the team curating and organising GetAhead Festival. A 24 hour event happening in Omeara, London on June 13, GetAhead is dedicated to helping people reduce and combat daily life stress. Whether you suffer mental health or not, the event has a packed program of talks, workshops and classes designed to offer you tools and tricks to improve health, wellness and mental well-being. Pre-work raves, all manner of fitness classes, comedy sessions, a tech-off and a night schedule that rolls on until 6am, GetAhead is a one-of-a-kind event which aims to launch across 24 other cities globally and help over a billion people over the next two years.

Next week GetAhead will also release an epic D&B album entitled Mind State with some of the biggest names imaginable. We’ll report that as soon we’re allowed to reveal the full tracklist (trust us, it’s immense). In the meantime, we spoke to Linguistics to understand his experiences and learn how we can help ourselves or anyone we know who is suffering mental health, and why maintaining this open and honest conversation is the best way to break down the stigma of mental health.

People who suffer mental health can be experts at hiding it. People knew I suffered with anxiety, but not to the level I was suffering.

GetAhead Festival is a cause very close to your heart isn’t it?

Yes it is. Massively. I’ve suffered anxiety and depression for longer than I ever realised. I’ve always been an anxious person, but I didn’t come to realise how much it was affecting my day to day life until I was 21 or 22. I was dealing with it in different ways. I was on medication for a while, which worked for a bit but it didn’t solve the issue of where the anxieties would come from.

At its worst, how does it affect your day to day life?

At its worst it’s left me unable to leave my room, leave my house, unable to eat. I wouldn’t be able to sit in a restaurant or anything like that. It sounds funny but at one point I found getting my haircut really difficult. Just sitting still in that spot became a real source of anxiety for me. It’s a day to day thing. A few years ago it got extremely bad and I had a breakdown. I was at my mum’s house. I was suffering really badly. I was on the edge and thinking about suicide. I couldn’t cope with anything. I felt like I’d lost my worth. I wanted out.

That’s terrible to hear

It was the worst point I’d ever suffered. It wasn’t the fact I really wanted to leave the world or my friends or family, but I just wanted it to stop. I didn’t want to feel anything. Suicide became a very real possibility. A viable option almost.

How long ago was this?

This was a little over two years ago. I was in a very bad place. I wasn’t dealing with it in the right way. I wasn’t looking after myself that much. I was constantly on the edge. I went down one morning and told my mum and sister what I was feeling and that I needed help. They contacted my friends and I’m so lucky and grateful to receive the support I did. I don’t know if I’d be here today. It sounds extreme but I couldn’t have carried on with my mind and my life in that way. At its worst it’s been that bad but since then I’ve spoken to therapists, and that’s helped me understand myself a lot more. I’m super open about everything now and I say how I feel on social media because it’s important.

When I started talking about it so many people got back to me saying they’d experienced things like this as well. It’s so widespread. Two-three years ago it seemed like no one was talking about it all. There’s much more of a conversation growing around mental health and that’s the first step in saving lives. I was lucky I had people I felt I could talk to. A lot of people don’t feel they do and they take a different way out. And that’s why I speak about this and why I’m involved in GetAhead. I always said when I get better and can control this more I would do what I can to help.

You’re right – no one was talking about this at all until a few years ago

I can’t remember any conversations at all and it seems weird to me. I know this job is great fun and we travel the world, but there are so many aspects that can have a negative impact on mental health. Firstly people need to know that mental health is as important as physical health and you can’t have one without the other. Health is health. They’re not separate. Look after your mind like you look after your body. But within the music scene it’s easy to live the party lifestyle and not be that healthy. It’s inevitable that it’s going to affect most people at some point and it shocked me that it’s so swept under the carpet and ‘hush hush don’t talk about it.’

We were all meant to ‘man up’ weren’t we?

I hate the whole sentiment of that. It’s toxic and so counter productive. That’s why I talk about these things so people see you don’t have to ‘man up’

Has it ever affected your career?

I’ve only ever missed one show and that was my first one with Ed (Friction). I had a panic attack. I’m very lucky to travel with him and he totally gets it. He’s a best mate and he was exposed to it from the very beginning. That’s invaluable to me while on the road. I’m very lucky.

But since then I’ve never missed a show. I’ve refused to let it get the better of me. I’ve tried to fight it. Sometimes when I’m feeling bad and just want to sit in my hotel on my own I still have to force myself to go to the dinners before the shows, for example. I’ve learnt through therapy that you have to put yourself in those scary situations that make you stressed and anxious to build up a confidence in those situations. You might feel sick or be a bit shaky at the table but you did it. So the next one will probably be easier and the next one might be a little easier again. I still use that tool today. You have to train your mind to deal with it in a different way. Not have a drink. Not do whatever else. Exercise has been a massive help for me and running has been a massive part of life for me. The benefits of keeping fit have been immeasurable for my overall health.

It’s about knowing yourself isn’t it?

Yeah it’s definitely about understanding yourself. Knowing what’s good for you and also being open to other things you might not have thought would be helpful. For a long time I didn’t want to speak to a therapist or anything like that and thought I could do it on my own. Now my mentality has shifted. Talking is so helpful. If you vocalise something or write it down your mind processes it in a different way. If you internalise things you don’t actually deal with them. Speak to someone. Write things down. Doing that and getting stuff out there is so helpful. Try everything and find something that works for you. One particular book that was really helpful was Reasons To Stay Alive by Matt Hague. I recently dipped back into depression and having that book to come back to and remind me of techniques that have helped pull me out was really useful. That’s been very helpful to me and I come back to it from time to time and remember what I do when I’m in certain positions and how I feel better now.

Can you suggest any ways to identify in a loved one so they can be helped as early as possible?

People who suffer mental health can be experts at hiding it. People knew I suffered with anxiety, but not to the level I was suffering. I became very good at hiding it. Whether that was having a few drinks before dinner or before a show. So until someone comes forward it can be difficult to see it or for them to want to talk about it. If someone is a bit quieter than usual it could be a sign, but I think the best way to help people the most is keeping people talking about and keeping the conversation going so people never feel like they’re shut down and told to man up.

Also employers need to be aware of this too and be supportive of staff who suffer mental health. People ring up and say they’ve got the flu or food poisoning but they can’t say ‘I can’t come to work today because I feel like I want to die – I need to rest, look after myself and have a mental health day.’ People feeling they can talk about it is the key because it’s very hard to spot the signs and people are so good at hiding it. We just need to look out for each other more. We’re all in this together – in life, in music, in any sector or walk of life. Ask a mate how they’re feeling and be honest with each other. We all just go into auto pilot and say ‘I’m fine.’ I’ve started saying ‘well actually I’m not feeling great today’. We have to be honest about how we feel so we don’t hide anything. Talking and taking care of each other is the most important thing.

GetAhead takes place on June 13 @ Omeara, London. Full details and tickets.

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