Roll over Beethoven: Classical Music and Mental Health According to Stephen Fry
This week’s community blog comes from Anthony Peacock, expert in all things PR and content. This week, Anthony writes about mental health and depression. He’ll be exploring what mental health advocate and general knowledge virtuoso Stephen Fry has to say about living with the depression and finding solace in the extraordinary works of Beethoven.
Roll Over Beethoven
When it comes to mental health generally and depression specifically, there’s no universal cure or answer. It’s more a question of finding what works best for you – and that could literally be anything.
Actor and comedian Stephen Fry has said, for example, that he listens to music by Beethoven as a means of coping with depression and that it has helped him when he was feeling at his lowest.
Appearing on the Art of Change podcast, the 62-year-old, who has often been open about his struggles with mental health, recently spoke about how the German composer – perhaps best known for the Ode to Joy – has helped him through troubled moments.
“There’s a healing quality to listening to it that helps,” he said. “Especially when combined with not drinking too much and walking and eating properly and all the other things that supposedly help one’s mental health. One of the ways I cope with it is to bathe myself in music like Beethoven’s and to think of people who have gone before me who have been lit by the flame of mania and doused by the icy water of depression and lived those lives of flaring up and going down and being close to the edge and how they have managed to do things and to achieve things and to retain their love and hope, and one clings to that.”
Great words from Mr Fry. And he’s not the only one. If I’m particularly stressed I’ll often reach for Italian opera or for Mozart: whose exquisitely structured and beautiful music often forms the perfect counterpoint to the chaos, turmoil and negativity that can so easily invade your mind in situations of stress. Before you even know it, these feelings can spiral out of hand towards a very dark place.
Fry – a man renowned for his easy humour and lightness of touch – has made no secret of the fact that he has sometimes found himself feeling suicidal. In 1995 he disappeared for a few days after starting a run of a West End play, Cell Mates – because he just couldn’t take it anymore. His disappearance sparked nationwide panic, but he later explained that he probably would have killed himself had he not just walked away at that moment.
Then in 2012, he attempted suicide while filming abroad using pills and vodka, before being rescued by his producer. Significantly, he had been filming a documentary about anti-gay protesters at the time: a harrowing topic that may just have been enough to tip him over the edge on that particular day.
“Inside you just don’t see the point of anything,” he added, speaking of those moments. “Nothing has flavour or savour. Nothing has any meaning. Everything is just hopeless. There’s no future. There’s no sense of anything ahead of you. You have to hope something will stop you. In my case it was just failed attempts and waking up in a hospital.”
Adding to his depression, Fry said that he struggled with “guilt” and “shame” as he recovered from the attempt: two emotions that are common among suicide survivors. But crucially, Fry added that being able to see “colour again’ was a crucial first step in his recovery. And that’s where Beethoven came in.
“Beethoven is a perfect example of someone who brings that colour back to you quicker than almost anything else and that’s a sign you’re back,” he said.
Fry, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, is now president of the mental health charity MIND, which has done excellent work in raising awareness of this crucial issue.
“The whole point in my role, as I see it, is not to be shy and forthcoming about the morbidity and genuine nature of the likelihood of death amongst people with certain mood disorders,” he said, adding that there’s never one specific reason that people try to take their own lives.
“There is no ‘why’ – it’s not the right question,” he pointed out. “There’s no reason. If there were a reason for it, you could reason someone out of it, and you could tell them why they shouldn’t take their own life.”
But in Stephen Fry’s view, what’s perhaps even more damaging than a mental health issue is the stigma that surrounds it in the outlook of so many other people. He reckons that one in four people suffer from mental health issues – so why is it still not widely understood?
For more of Anthony’s work, why not check out some of the articles below:
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