Today (Sept. 5), radio network Entercom launched a new mental health awareness and suicide prevention campaign called I’m Listening. The campaign centers on a two-hour on-air special that will be broadcasted live on World Suicide Prevention Day (Sept. 10).
The broadcast will feature several special guests — such as Nirvana’s Krist Novoselic, Logic, Halsey, Passion Pit’s Michael Angelakos, Khalid, Jack Antonoff and many more — who will share their own personal stories and struggles surrounding mental health.
Music producer Bob Ezrin (Lou Reed, Pink Floyd, Kiss) will participate in the campaign as well, which he says is especially significant because he lost his oldest son to suicide. “All of us, especially the media, must be much more open and honest in our discussion of suicide and other mental health issues,” Ezrin tells Billboard. “Not talking openly and immediately about the cause and effect of suicide actually makes it more mysterious, and strangely glamorous-sounding. We need to speak openly about these issues so that it becomes natural for people who are suffering to say so, and to reach out for help.”
Michael Angelakos, who has been public about his mental illness since 2012, says he feels as if it’s his duty to encourage and initiate more actionable dialogue. While he thinks the I’m Listening campaign is a start, he believes people need to be continuously exposed to such open and honest conversations.
“I am constantly in recovery, and that’s the beautiful thing,” Angelakos relates. “I keep working at it. Despite all of the setbacks, I still want to take things on like this campaign because I really feel it is important to at least inspire, at base-level, the people who actually have the resources to finally access them, let alone begin to address the fact that most people don’t.”
Read an excerpt from a longer emailed conversation with Angelakos below.
Do you think a campaign like this holds an even greater significance now, considering recent tragic losses in the entertainment industry?
No, not in the sense of what has happened recently, but what has been happening for forever, and not just in the entertainment industry. This is a universal problem, truly, and people in the public light are simply easier to report on, so we have to remain objective here, as well as inclusive — this is not about famous people, or the entertainment industry. This is about people.
With mental health and the media, it’s pretty simple: There’s a peak in interest, it’s mostly genuine and sometimes isn’t, but it’s still coverage. Then there’s an extremely sharp decay shortly afterwards, and that’s every single time it happens. Every spike. We see it time and time again, but this isn’t an indictment. It’s natural — this is really hard stuff to talk about, let alone report, but it must mean that talking about it is that important.
So we talk about it, but then what? I pose the question of “now what?” to any media outlet, social media platform, etc. — any company, particularly in the media, that promotes mental health awareness. What are these companies and outlets doing, besides giving a platform to people — in essence, urging people for a good cause to create content for these platforms/channels to host, in the spirit of promoting personal stories to inspire people.
But they are formatted. They most times, and many advocates say this, do not accurately reflect the complexity of the dangers of living with these issues and illnesses — especially without help or support — because they are formatted for the mediums. They are edited for the viewership or readership of the outlet/publication, for the narrative of the campaign, which is only natural. Sometimes they aren’t, but it’s still branded.
With all this said, I am participating in this — I seriously applaud and thank anyone that takes on this ideological nightmare. However, I then, in the same breath, would like to request more action on their part. A channel is not enough. We can do more. Listening is important. After listening should be action.
When did you get to a point where you felt comfortable discussing and sharing your own experiences?
Never, honestly. I hate admitting this. I have said before that it feels empowering — I’ve maybe even stretched the truth and tried desperately to be simply inspiring. But, my god, it’s hard. I’m just a human. After doing something, like a talk at Mt. Sinai or what have you, I’ll go home and still suffer from what I actually deal with on a day-to-day basis. It doesn’t go away, I wish it did.
I really truly try to defy logic more than my illness itself, in simply talking my way through it, believing the advocacy is like a medicine. It is empowering, it can give you a high when you feel appreciated, but it is not the end goal, nor is it comfortable getting there.
Not only is it not comfortable, it is not easy. But you’d never know until you do what something that is inherently difficult and hard to even imagine doing when you actually live through these things, which is talking about it. How is anyone going to know you need help unless you tell them? We are afraid of rejection. I can tell you I face rejection even while talking about these things all of the time. But for every rejection, there is, at some point, a wonderful acceptance. You get it, and it’s worth it. But let’s not paint this too prettily: I have access to a lot of different kinds of resources now. The majority of people do not.
Why do you think it’s important to be vocal about mental health?
Because no one can read your mind. You have to ask for most things in life, this is no different. If people do detect something without you or someone saying anything, there’s proof that mental illness or mental health issues are not invisible like everyone says. I have found this very recently to be something extremely difficult to comprehend — you can see the pain in people, the mental directly informs the physical, and vice versa. You, as a human in a room with another human, can feel pain. How can you not? You are a human, incredibly intuitive and you feel many things, so you must feel pain, too.
But the real point here is this: To not be vocal about mental health is a great way of explaining how so many mental illnesses develop — silence and isolation is how a hard feeling suddenly becomes a medical priority. It’s hard to hear people discuss difficult things, but remember that you need to discuss difficult things, too. We all do, and becoming better listeners is one absolutely crucial element of incentivizing advocacy. Believe it or not, we’re just getting started.
The I’m Listening two-hour on-air special will broadcast live from Seattle on Sunday, September 10, 2017 at 10:00 a.m. ET across all Entercom platforms. More information about the campaign can be found here.
If someone you know is going through a crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741-741.