Songs You May Not Have Known Are about Depression

Songs about mental health depression

Depression has a grip on millions of people. Far more than feeling sad, depression can leave you feeling hopeless, apathetic, and worthless. And despite the condition being so widespread, it often feels like other people just don’t understand what it’s like.

For listeners and creators alike, music offers a way to manage feelings we otherwise couldn’t handle. Some use it as an escape from their depression, while others take comfort in knowing that someone else has gone through what they’re experiencing.

Let’s dive into how creatives use music to help manage their—and others’—symptoms of depression, as well as list some songs for when you are depressed.

Musical Expressions of Depression: Hidden Messages

Songwriters love to tuck hidden meanings and messages into their songs, either as a fun game or to further expand on the themes of the song. With depression, it often feels like you have to mask and hide your feelings to avoid shame or ridicule. Many artists have felt the same way, subtly hiding their depression within their songs and making them that much more relatable.

No Rain – Blind Melon

This piece uses bright and fun instrumentation that can immediately put a smile on your face. Even the lyrics aren’t super overt, at least until you hit the second verse, which probably sounds familiar to those who have experienced depression:

And I don’t understand why I sleep all day/And I start to complain that there’s no rain/And all I can do is read a book to stay awake/And it rips my life away, but it’s a great escape.

Bassist Brad Smith, who wrote the majority of the song, said that he was dating a woman with depression and used her experiences to craft the song. However, down the road, Smith realized that he had accidentally written about himself, not realizing he had mental health struggles at the time.

Hey Ya! – Outkast

Another example of hidden meanings in songs comes from one of the most iconic and well-known pieces of music ever released: “Hey Ya!” by Outkast. André 3000’s incredible delivery and the bouncing beat hide a medley of concerns that you might not pick up on while dancing away. The song itself focuses on the singer’s second thoughts about his relationship and his concerns about the future:

If what they say is ‘Nothing is forever’\Then what makes, then what makes, then what makes\Then what makes, what makes, what makes love the exception?\So why oh, why oh, why oh, why oh, why oh\Are we so in denial when we know we’re not happy here?

These fears are common parts of any relationship but can become far more prevalent when struggling with anxiety and depression. To top it all off, revisit Hey Ya!’s music video. You probably didn’t notice thanks to André’s incredible bob and the vibrant green set pieces, but they are dancing and singing around an open coffin. Talk about hidden meanings.

Lyrics That Touch on the Depths of Despair

Not every artist chooses to bury their intent and meaning behind metaphor or cheerful riffs. Some choose to dive into the deep end and fully express how their depression and despair feel. This might be a bit too much for some listeners, but others might find a bit of catharsis in knowing that there are people out there who have been to depths and experienced it just like they have.

Hurt – Nine Inch Nails

One of the most classic examples of hard-hitting lyrics comes from Nine Inch Nails, though the Johnny Cash cover version might send it home a bit more for some individuals. The song is about feeling a despair so powerful that self-harm—or drug abuse—seems to be the only form of release available to the singer. Throughout the piece, there are powerful lyrics that drive this home, “Focus on the pain\The only thing that’s real.”

Though the two versions of the song seem to express different forms of anguish, they are both some of the most heart-wrenching pieces of music you can experience.

Adam’s Song – Blink-182

Fans of the pop-punk bands of the early 2000s will know that an astonishing number of them sang about issues like depression and anxiety. The one that tends to stand out the most, however, is Adam’s Song. A departure from Blink-182’s usual themes, Adam’s Song takes the form of a suicide note, incorporating many of the thoughts and phrases people with depression tend to have.

Phrases like “I’m too depressed to go on/You’ll be sorry when I’m gone” and “Please tell Mom this is not her fault” are common among people contemplating suicide. However, the song takes on an uplifting view in the final chorus, featuring phrases like “Tomorrow holds such better days” and “The world is wide, the time goes by/The tour is over, I’ve survived” showing that despite everything, he was able to make it through.

Artists Who Openly Address Mental Health in Their Music

Thanks to a massive effort to de-stigmatize mental health issues, many artists are releasing songs that touch on conditions like depression. For some, however, mental health is a recurring theme throughout their catalogs. Without attempting to mask it or hide it, these musicians express how their conditions have affected their lives and how they manage to keep going.

u – Kendrick Lamar

Kendrick Lamar is no stranger to deep, meaningful lyrics. From social justice and politics to religion and philosophy, Lamar is as much a poet as he is a performer. Especially since the release of To Pimp a Butterfly, Lamar has filled many of his songs with personal experiences of struggling with depression and anxiety. “u” is probably the most direct example of this as he attacks all the things about himself that he hates or feels are faults.

By othering himself and using “you,” Lamar felt that he was able to attack his depression to make himself feel better and stronger. This song also acts as a complete mirror to i, the lead single from the album. While u is all about self-loathing and depression, i is an expression of self-love and admiration. Lamar wants everyone to remember that from u, you will get to i.

Can’t Handle This – Bo Burnham

Most people who recognize the name Bo Burnham probably know him as a comedian. While this is true, it’s a vast oversimplification of the route Burnham has taken with his music in the last decade. Though he still weaves a satirical and sardonic style of comedy through his lyrics, he has consistently discussed his battles with his mental health. Burnham even began having panic attacks on stage so severe that he had to quit performing for several years.

In Can’t Handle This, Burnham parodies Kanye West—who himself is no stranger to writing about mental health—by performing a “kind of a rant, kind of a song.”

Throughout the song, Burnham jokes about things in his life that bother him, slipping more serious problems between smaller ones. He discusses struggling with his body image shortly after saying he thinks Pringles cans are too small. At the end, he sends it all home by acknowledging that he is avoiding the main issues and honestly expressing his pain:

I can sit here and pretend like my biggest problems are\Pringle cans\And burritos\The truth is my biggest problem’s you

Look at them; they’re just staring at me, like\’Come and watch the skinny kid with the steadily declining mental health\And laugh as he attempts to give you what he cannot give himself’

Finding Comfort and Connection Through Depressive Songs

It may seem counterintuitive to listen to songs about hopelessness or depression when you are experiencing those things yourself, but it can honestly be one of the best forms of therapy. Knowing that there are people out there with the same sentiments, fears, worries, and thoughts that you have is incredibly comforting. You feel a connection to the writer, performer, or musician and find a sense of release.

If you or someone you know has depression or another mental health condition, consider working with a professional mental health care provider. They can help you learn tools and techniques to manage your symptoms—including music therapy.