Since their chart-topping 2012 album Night Visions, Imagine Dragons has captivated fans with their genre-bending sound and introspective lyrics. But for lead singer Dan Reynolds, the band’s rise to fame was clouded by depression.
Reynolds has grown increasingly vocal about his struggle with the condition, which he’s had since childhood. As a member of both the Mormon church and a rock band, Reynolds’ openness about his depression has surprised a number of his fans.
But today, Reynolds’ mental health is better than ever. By sharing his story, he seeks to encourage people around the world to take action against depression. Here’s what worked for him on his journey.
Early Years: Music and Pain
The seventh of nine children, Reynolds was always pressured to achieve. Growing up in Nevada, his family prioritized academic success and strictly adhered to the rules of the Mormon church. For a child whose first love was music, this left him in flux.
Always creative and emotional, he experienced symptoms of depression from a young age. Though he was unable to identify the condition, he felt different and removed from the kids around him. In a 2021 interview with Inc., he admitted that it wasn’t until high school that he realized, “Okay, this is depression.” For Reynolds, depression meant feeling numb. Unwilling to socialize, he lost interest in all of his hobbies — except music.
“Music was therapeutic for me in a way that nothing else was,” he said. Though he felt indifferent to everything else, music gave him a way to communicate with others and express his emotions in a way he couldn’t in conversation. He quickly found songwriting to be a therapeutic experience that he would lean on for decades to come.
Despite his raw musical talent, Reynolds still felt pressured to please his family, most of whom today are doctors and lawyers. Finding it difficult to abide by the Mormon code of conduct, he was rejected from Brigham Young University, where his entire family received an education. He went on to attend the University of Nevada, but still experienced loneliness and depression. “I felt like I was this sinful kid,” he told Nevada Public Radio.
Reynolds’s experience is not an isolated one. In Utah, the state with the highest Mormon population, suicide is the leading cause of death for residents aged 10-24. Compared to the national average, the Utah youth suicide rate increases four times as fast. Familial and religious pressure combined with a lack of mental health awareness makes for an environment where depression can thrive.
Hitting Rock Bottom at the Top
Forming Imagine Dragons with his three bandmates gave Reynolds purpose. Playing 6-hour shows on the Las Vegas strip for little pay honed their skills. Before they knew it, they had released a hit record. Newly married and having just had a new child, he should have been on top of the world. But as he traveled the globe and played sold-out shows, his depression struck once more.
On a flight that encountered extreme turbulence, Reynolds thought to himself, “Man, if I die right now, I don’t care.” This thought would be the one that pushed him to seek professional help.
He started seeing a therapist, making him the first in his family to do so. Now years later, he says this decision changed his life. Rather than simply enduring the ups and downs of his condition, facing it “head-on for the first time” empowered Reynolds to come out on top. Today, despite marital issues and musical criticism, his mental health is stronger than it’s ever been.
Fame and Depression
Reynolds isn’t the first celebrity to battle depression. The condition has driven countless stars to suicide, including Kurt Cobain and Anthony Bourdain. In addition to career and social stress, fame adds a different level of pressure to an already dangerous disorder.
These publicized cases have mixed effects on fans. Following Robin Williams’ suicide in 2014, suicide rates increased immediately, with 66% of the victims copying his method. However, the number of help line calls also rose dramatically, suggesting that his tragic story inspired others to get the help they needed.
While mental illness has long been stigmatized, celebrity cases of depression do have a silver lining. By sharing their stories with the public, celebrities ranging from Jon Hamm to Lady Gaga send fans a valuable message: they are not alone.
Imagine Dragons: Spreading Mental Health Awareness
Reynolds isn’t one to keep his triumph over depression to himself. The singer now sees it his mission to spread mental health awareness, particularly among communities where such conditions are viewed as a weakness.
Songwriting continues to be Reynolds’s favorite way to communicate. In 2022, the band partnered with the Crisis Help Line to produce the song “I Don’t Like Myself,” which seeks to encourage listeners to seek help when they need it. “I wrote this song at a very low point for me,” he said, adding that self-love has been one of his biggest challenges.
Other tracks from their new album Mercury, including “Lonely” and “No Time for Toxic People,” also highlight the struggle to overcome inner turmoil. And the band’s biggest hits — “Radioactive” and “Demons” — discuss the hardships that stem from mistrust of the self.
Through songs like this, Imagine Dragons seek to show listeners that their depression doesn’t define them. With Reynolds as its leader, the band continues to show fans that they aren’t alone in their pain.
Lessons From Dan Reynolds
During his interview with Inc., Reynolds revealed what helped him the most in his recovery. “If I was going to stay alive, I was going to do music,” he said. The message is clear: leaning into your passions can keep you afloat. No matter what they are, the things you love can help you stay grounded during times of mental distress.
“Two things have saved my life: music and therapy,” Reynolds also said. While he admits everyone has a different path to follow in life, he stands firm on the importance of finding a good therapist. His messages to fans have done much to end the stigma associated with therapy and depression.
At a 2018 concert, Reynolds stopped the band mid-song to give a small speech on the values of therapy. “I was diagnosed with depression,” he said to the crowd. “It does not make me broken.”
It’s never too late to take a stand against depression. Contact Restore Mental Health today to get help.