Songwriters have long combined the power of music and words to help people struggling with anxiety and depression to feel less alone and more empowered.
This playlist offers a diverse mix of music written by artists and bands who know what it’s like to struggle with mental illnesses and want to extend a helping hand to listeners. From Demi Lovato to The Rolling Stones, check out these songs about mental health.
1-800-273-8255 – Logic ft. Alessia Cara, Khalid
After realizing how much his music positively affected his fans, Logic wanted to do something more to help them with their struggles. With the phone number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline listed right in the title, the musician and producer crafted a moving anti-suicide message with the single. Singers Alessia Cara and Khalid provided guest vocals to help offer words of hope and encouragement in the lyrics.
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In My Blood – Shawn Mendes
Growing up, songwriter Shawn Mendes didn’t grapple much with anxiety issues. But once he reached fame, so much social pressure set in. He wrote ‘In My Blood’ to acknowledge his anxiety and say that backing down isn’t an option for him. The emotional power ballad was the first song he wrote for his third album, which is self-titled.
Related: Calm your nerves with these songs about being anxious.
Anxiety – Julia Michaels ft. Selena Gomez
“I’ve been told that I could take something to fix it. Damn, I wish it. I wish it was that simple.” Julia Michaels’ battle with anxiety has long been a theme of hers in her writing. Her lyrics are especially raw and honest with ‘Anxiety’ as she tries to explain what it’s like living with the condition to people who have never dealt with it. Pop singer Selena Gomez joined her in the studio for the recording and duets with her over gentle acoustic guitar notes.
24/7 – Kehlani
“It’s okay to not be okay.” Following an attempt to take her life, Kehlani penned ’24/7′ after being released from the hospital. The R&B singer uses the single to encourage people to be honest with themselves and not be afraid to talk about their problems with other people. She reminds listeners that everyone experiences pain in their lives, which can help us connect with each other.
Help! – The Beatles
A powerhouse of a Beatles tune, their early hit ‘Help!’ is one of their most lyrically demanding songs ever written. With John Lennon singing lead backed by Harrison and McCartney, they confess that they were full of independence in their younger days, but as they age, they realize they need help in life. The early rock tune has a hint of desperation due to their dynamic vocal delivery and the faster pace they decided to go with while recording in the studio.
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Fake Happy – Paramore
“Don’t ask me how I’ve been. Don’t make me play pretend.” Frontwoman Hayley Williams sings about fake people with Paramore’s track ‘Fake Happy.’ She and fellow bandmate and songwriter Taylor York add a twist in the lyrics with Williams confessing she can spot a fake person well because she’s had to be fake so many times. The theme of the pop-rock tune centers around society constantly demanding people be in a good mood.
Hurt – Johnny Cash
Before Johnny Cash passed away, his last release was a stirring rendition of hard rock band Nine Inch Nail’s single ‘Hurt.’ As the country singer confesses he hurt himself to see if he could still feel pain, a single haunting piano note backs up his leathery vocals. Though it’s a rare Cash cover, the single became his signature swan song.
Related: This song features on our list of the best songs about someone hurting you.
Sober – Demi Lovato
Though Demi Lovato is now known internationally as a pop singer, she started as a child star on the hit Disney show Sonny with a Chance. Throughout her career, Lovato has always been honest about her mental health struggles. She wrote ‘Sober’ after a devastating substance abuse relapse resulted in her being rushed to the hospital. She wrote the moving track as a way to heal during her recovery.
Related: See our playlist of songs about substance abuse.
Breathin – Ariana Grande
While pop star Ariana Grande has always struggled with anxiety, the tragedy that happened at her concert in Manchester, England, in 2017, which resulted in 22 deaths of concert-goers, gave her intense panic attacks after coming home when her Dangerous Woman tour was complete. When she got back in the studio for her follow-up project, she wrote ‘Breathin’ while working through another panic attack in the studio.
Related: Remember to relax and listen to our breathe songs list.
Save Myself – Ed Sheeran
“Before I save someone else, I’ve got to save myself.” Songwriter Ed Sheeran gets up close and personal with his bouts of loneliness and depression in ‘Save Myself.’ The tune takes on an empowering message, as the theme of self-care appears throughout the lyrics. He wants to help people who feel like he does, but before he can do that, he realizes he must first help himself.
Paint It, Black – The Rolling Stones
A number-one hit in both the US and the UK, The Rolling Stones’ ‘Paint It, Black’ uses color symbolism to describe depression. Written by Jagger and Richards, fans have long speculated that the lyrics deal with a lover’s death, though the bandmates have said in interviews that they weren’t inspired by specific events while penning the single.
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Fell on Black Days – Soundgarden
It took several years for the late musician Chris Cornell to write ‘Fell on Black Days.’ The Sound Garden frontman struggled with depression, at times becoming so severe in his teenage years he wouldn’t leave the house for months. The personal subject matter of the tune made it hard for him to write. He had to get into a place of unadulterated honesty, where it was okay to be afraid, to be able to finish it.
Related: Find this song on our playlist of the best 90s songs of all time.
Head Above Water – Avril Lavigne
“I’ve gotta keep the calm before the storm.” Canadian pop-punk artist Avril Lavigne had to take a year-long break from her in-demand music career after being diagnosed with Lyme disease. During one particularly tough night, she found herself praying, asking God to help her keep her “head above water.” The experience inspired her to write the track, and she used it to help raise funds for organizations focusing on Lyme disease patients.
Now I’m in It – HAIM
The follow-up to HAIM’s sunny ‘Summer Girl’ single was the haunting, tumultuous song ‘Now I’m in It.’ Written by the sisters to reflect how one’s mind races during bouts of depression, Danielle Haim made sure they stayed true to exactly what people go through when the disorder takes hold of them. Danielle began writing the piece during a particularly difficult time after closing out a tour for their album, Something to Tell You.
Smile – Jay-Z ft. Gloria Carter
An empowering song written by Rapper Jay-Z, ‘Smile’ is deeply personal for him. Though he grew up in a traditional nuclear family, his mother came out as gay much later in the musician’s life. He announces his support for her in the track, and his mother even makes a guest appearance towards the end. The purpose of the track is to tell people to turn their “pain into triumph.”
Breathe Me – Sia
A song written early on in her career before her breakout success with ‘Chandelier,’ Sia wrote about her longtime battle with depression and anxiety in ‘Breathe Me.’ The songwriter had attempted to take her own life before writing the track. She almost tried again, but a friend convinced her to get help. The poignant song has been licensed many times for movies and TV shows, including CSI: Miami, Veronica Mars, and Six Feet Under.
Not Dark Yet – Bob Dylan
Released later in his career, Dylan produced a full band recording for the track ‘Not Dark Yet,’ as opposed to his previously preferred pared-down, folksy sound. The moody track finds the folk icon confronting his mortality. Poetic passages in the track are classic Dylan, with the songwriter including obscure references to religious scripture while saying, “It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there.”
Today – The Smashing Pumpkins
Though the Smashing Pumpkins single ‘Today’ resonated deeply with countless fans, songwriter and band frontman Billy Corgin never cared much for the tune. Considering it one of their more commercial efforts, he cut the track to get in the good graces of their label, which was putting a ton of pressure on Corgan to produce a hit album. The song deals with Corgin’s anxiety and depression due to pressure from the music industry.
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Perfect – Anne-Marie
Anne-Marie penned ‘Perfect’ as an anthem for anyone struggling with issues of acceptance. Drawing on her own experiences with working hard to love herself, the track is an ode to those who have overcome everything from issues with their body to their sexuality. The singer said her main message with the single is, “You are perfect just the way you are.”
Related: These self love songs will lift you up.
Unwell – Matchbox Twenty
“I’m not crazy. I’m just a little unwell.” After several years of touring and working non-stop, songwriter and Matchbox Twenty band leader Rob Thomas began to feel burnt out and mentally exhausted. He wrote ‘Unwell’ as a reminder to people that we all suffer from mental health issues from time to time, and it doesn’t mean “we’re crazy.” Thomas began to work on the hit single after experiencing a round of panic attacks and needing a way to work through his emotions.
Wake Up Alone – Amy Winehouse
“Pour myself over him, moon spilling in, and I wake up alone.” A resounding poetic take on what it’s like to be consumed by a toxic romantic relationship, late singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse wrote ‘Wake Up Alone’ with composer Paul O’Duffy. According to O’Duffy, Winehouse sang the tune in one take just after writing it.
Related: Check out our toxic love songs playlist.
Heavy – Linkin Park
“If I just let go, I’d be set free.” Band vocalist Chester Bennington wrote ‘Heavy’ while feeling like he was spinning out of control and drowning due to personal and professional pressures. After his suicide, many looked to this autobiographical song for clues about what he was going through internally while alive. The song departed from the band’s typical electrified sound. For ‘Heavy,’ they utilized piano and acoustic guitar.
Hunger – Florence + the Machine
Florence Welch wrote from an intimately honest place for ‘Hunger.’ Stating that she experienced vulnerability like never before while writing the lyrics, she included a few lines at the start of it regarding an eating disorder she struggled with when she was a teen. As the song continues, the message brings awareness to all the unhealthy things we do to ourselves in the name of love. Florence wanted ‘Hunger’ to be a source of connection for people who felt isolated from society.
Paranoid Android – Radiohead
Frontman Thom Yorke is known as an introverted, loner type. So when he got cornered by a crowd of people in an LA bar, he had a tough time. Containing topics tackling everything from consumerism to religion, after his experience, the song came to him easily once he got back to his NY apartment. The song’s title, ‘Paranoid Android,’ is a direct reference to a character in the classic sci-fi novel, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
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Fix You – Coldplay
Frontman Chris Martin penned the soft, emotional track ‘Fix You’ while playing a keyboard his father-in-law bought but never got to play due to his passing away. The single was written while dating his former wife, Gweneth Paltrow, and he used the hit song to extend an olive branch to her as she struggled with her father’s death.
Related: Feeling blue? Here are some songs for when you’re sad.
Waving Through a Window – Ben Platt and Original Broadway Cast of Dear Evan Hansen
“I’ve learned to slam on the brake before I even turn the key.” A song written for the musical Dear Even Hansen, ‘Waving Through a Window’ tackles feelings of hopelessness in a world where one feels they have no purpose. The play deals with a protagonist who suffers from a social anxiety disorder, creating a crisis at his high school that he rectifies so he can feel important.
Where is My Mind? – Pixies
This chaotic song’s claim to fame is its creative use in the last scenes of the cult classic ’90s film Fight Club. Before a swath of people were introduced to The Pixies thanks to the dark film, vocalist Frank Black wrote the track after an underwater swim left him feeling disoriented. With a vertigo-like feel, no doubt inspired by his experience, the lyrics focus on questioning reality and feeling like you’re going insane.
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One – Metallica
Based on a war novel by writer Dalton Trumbo, Johnny Got His Gun, Metallica tackles PTSD and the horrors of war with ‘One.’ The lyrics focus on the unique violence of World War I when soldiers had to fight in what is known as “trench warfare.” The main character in the song is a victim of a mortar blast, and he ends up in the hospital as an amputee, wondering how he is still living despite so much of him missing.
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Crucify – Tori Amos
After years of trying to please everyone in the music industry, Tori Amos realized she didn’t please herself. As frustrations grew due to her lack of confidence, emotions manifested in her lyrics. ‘Crucify’ was written to an electronic drum beat she set on a loop. She sat there with it playing in the background as she talked to herself for hours, ultimately forming vocal lines. Due to the song’s title, it was deemed controversial and banned by many stations with a “sacrilegious” label.