The future of music

30 Best Songs About Mental Health & Mental Illness

December 22, 2023
songs about mental health

I’ve carefully compiled a list of the best songs about mental health and mental illness, each track offering a powerful perspective on this critical and often overlooked topic.

This article delves into songs that provide comfort, understanding, and a voice to those experiences, shining a light on the struggles and resilience associated with mental health.

Top songs about mental health & mental illness

  • “Everybody Hurts” by R.E.M.
  • “Mad World” by Gary Jules
  • “Under Pressure” by Queen
  • “The Drugs Don’t Work” by The Verve
  • “Basket Case” by Green Day
  • “She’s Got Issues” by The Offspring
  • “Fake Happy” by Paramore
  • “Head Above Water” by Avril Lavigne
  • “Unwell” by Matchbox Twenty
  • “Boy Next Door” by Richard Marx

1. “Everybody Hurts” by R.E.M.

Setting the ball rolling today is a classic by R.E.M. that has a wholesome take-home message.

Life can be challenging, the rollercoaster brings ups and downs.

It can be painful and upsetting “sometimes”.

The verse lyrics humanize these feelings and the chorus has an encouraging summation urging the troubled listener to “hold on”.

2. “Mad World” by Gary Jules

The protagonist in the lyrical narrative of this one is depressed.

He feels like he is running in circles in a mad world he doesn’t feel he has a place within.

In his head, he is drowning, trying to bottle up his emotions and fit in.

Some of the lines are on the darker side and could be triggering as they hint at suicidal thoughts while dreaming.

“And I find it kind of funny

I find it kind of sad

The dreams in which I’m dying

Are the best I’ve ever had”.

3. “Under Pressure” by Queen

Life can be stressful, the pressure of routines, workplace demands, and societal expectations can make for an intense environment.

It can be tough to look after your mental health with all the stressors.

Sometimes you end up breaking; “Insanity laughs under pressure we’re breaking” 

Freddie then belts out lamenting as to why we can’t give ourselves another chance.

Which is a good takeaway value.

When you feel like life is beating you, it is important to be gentle with yourself, get back up, and persist.

4. “The Drugs Don’t Work” by The Verve

Unfortunately, poor mental health and addiction often go hand in hand.

Instead of facing and working on issues, it is all too easy to turn to drugs and alcohol to blot out what you need to find the strength to face.

“The Drugs Don’t Work” was inspired by how writer Richard Ashcroft truly felt at the time.

Some have linked it to the death of his father and the drugs he was on at the time while battling cancer.

But Ashcroft says it has a few meanings, one being predestined love and another being genuinely an observation of his own recreational use. 

Ultimately, he likes that people can interpret it.

5. “Basket Case” by Green Day

This one has an element of truth to it as well. 

Billie Joe Armstrong suffered from anxiety and panic attacks and has openly spoken about them.

Although this song tells the tale from a tongue-in-cheek perspective with a cheeky attitude it addresses some real issues in the humor.

“Do you have the time to listen to me whine

About nothing and everything all at once?

I am one of those

Melodramatic fools

Neurotic to the bone

No doubt about it”.

6. “She’s Got Issues” by The Offspring

A song in a similar vein as the above is “She’s Got Issues” only it’s not written with a first-person perspective.

This might make it a little more offensive for some.

The protagonist begins to get involved with a girl whose mental health isn’t great. 

He soon sees her emotional baggage and red flags for codependency; he knows he isn’t interested enough and doesn’t have the patience to be a supportive partner.

But is trapped between a rock and a hard place, if he walks away it will reinforce how she feels.

“Now I know she’ll feel abandoned

If I don’t stay over late”.

7. “Fake Happy” by Paramore

When you wake each day and try to keep your mental illness in check it can be exhausting to mask how you feel all day in public.

Lead vocalist Hayley Williams talks candidly about masking her feelings in this one;

“I been doing a good job of makin’ ’em think

I’m quite alright

But I hope I don’t blink”.

It is something many people can relate to, especially those with depression.

Being so honest makes it one of the best songs about mental health.

8. “Head Above Water” by Avril Lavigne 

Canadian pop star Avril Lavigne was A.W.O.L for a while as far as music was concerned.

When she returned she gave us this gem.

“My life is what I’m fighting for, can’t part the sea, can’t reach the shore.” 

Her words are inspired by her real battle with Lymes disease.

Whether your illness is physical or mental there are lots of great lines in this imagery-filled rock ballad.

The title itself is super-relatable.

Sometimes when our mental health isn’t at its best it can be tough to keep your head above water.

But like Avril you have to stay afloat;

“I won’t let this pull me overboard.”

9. “Unwell” by Matchbox Twenty

Singer-songwriter Rob Thomas describes this song as a track about having a “despondent relationship with yourself”.

There are lots of classic (perhaps cliché) lines in the lyrics that are synonymous with some mental health issues.

He mentions “Staring at the ceiling”, “hearing voices”, “talking to myself (himself) in public”, and “talking in my (his) sleep”.

He has paranoia that people are looking at him and that he might get taken away. 

But ultimately the chorus has a hopeful, positive edge as he knows he isn’t “crazy” just “a little unwell”.

10. “Boy Next Door” by Richard Marx

You may or may not remember this one, it is fair to say it isn’t one of the most famous track choices on our list of best mental health songs.

This one was released back in 2000 and has a harrowing fictional story to tell. 

The lyrics of The Boy Next Door insinuate that the character wasn’t given enough attention and killed his little sister.

Depressingly and shockingly, it echos real-life events that often come to pass.

Sometimes mental health issues can leave a person spiraling out of control.

11. “Crawling” by Linkin Park

With all the issues Bennington faced before his death, this one hits a little differently.

The vocalist had plenty to say on the topics dealt with inside the song.

In essence, it is about the side effects felt with his methamphetamine use.

Something he felt he had no control over. 

Those opening lines however can be a common mental health issue known as Formication.

A sensory hallucination that feels like insects crawling in, on, or under your skin.

“There’s something inside me that pulls beneath the surface

Consuming, confusing

This lack of self-control I fear is never ending

Controlling

I can’t seem

To find myself again

My walls are closing in”

They can also be interpreted as feeling like you don’t fit in, not being comfortable in your own skin, it is you in fact who is crawling.

See also: Best Linkin Park Songs

12. “How To Save A Life” by The Fray

This one deals with a much heavier subject matter. 

Singer Isaac Slade worked at a camp for troubled youths where he encountered a teen musician who had so many problems no one knew how to save him.

His friends and family gave him ultimatums and threats and cut him out of their lives when he was going through depression and needed support the most.

The lyrics hit hard.

“And where did I go wrong?

I lost a friend

Somewhere along in the bitterness

And I would have stayed up with you all night

Had I known how to save a life”

13. “Fix You” by Coldplay

“Fix You” by Coldplay is another of the best songs about mental health because it has a message of love and support that will help anyone during a time of need.

It has an I am there no matter what vibe that should help lift the lowest of spirits.

“Lights will guide you home

And ignite your bones

And I will try to fix you”

Rumor has it this one was written when Chris Martin was trying to help his wife Gwyneth Paltrow deal with her grief following the death of her father.

There is nothing quite as gravity-filled as grief to send you mental health hurdles.

14. “Breathin” by Ariana Grande

Like Billie Joe Armstong who we already mentioned, Ariana suffers from her fair share of anxiety attacks.

The superstar confirmed the subject matter of the song in multiple interviews. 

The repetitive “Breathe in” in this song is literal and not metaphorical.

When a panic attack hits it raises your pulse and comes with a sense of dread.

She describes it perfectly with her lyrics;

“Feel my blood runnin’, swear the sky’s fallin’”.

The accompanying music video uses motion control effects that shoot her at different frame rate speeds.

This helps echo the sentiment of feeling out of sync with the world around you as you lose control and spiral into an attack.

15. “Flashlight” by Jessie J

With a more empowering message of unconditional support, “Flashlight” by Jessie J is the ultimate beacon of hope.

Things can be tough, it can appear desperate but things can always change for the better.

It always helps to have someone by your side.

The light at the end of the tunnel we so often hear described in this case is someone that Jessie J can put her faith in.

“I got all I need when I got you and I

I look around me and see a sweet life

I’m stuck in the dark but you’re my flashlight

You’re getting me, getting me through the night”.

16. “Hurt” by Johnny Cash

This next song about mental illness touches on self-harm.

The original was penned and recorded by Trent Reznor with Nine Inch Nails.

But Johnny’s gut-wrenching version hit a wider audience.

“I hurt myself today

To see if I still feel

I focus on the pain

The only thing that’s real”.

There is something about time catching up with the elderly star that gives his stripped-back rendition a vulnerability perfect for the lyrics and subject matter.

Although the words were not his, we all felt it.

17. “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon & Garfunkel

The best songs about mental health are the supportive ones that inspire you to plow on and “keep swimming”.

“Bridge Over Troubled Water” is one such song, Simon & Garfunkel’s Grammy Award Winning song is sympathetic and unconditional.

“When you’re weary

Feeling small

When tears are in your eyes

I’ll dry them all

I’m on your side

Oh, when times get rough

And friends just can’t be found”.

When our mental health is off the rails, we need someone to rely on, someone who cares. 

18. “Help” by The Beatles

Those first few bars with their descending chord progression perfectly sum up the despair felt as you unravel and begin a downward spiral mentally.

The rest of the song is pretty trivial, the problems discussed are general life problems.

It discusses coming to terms with adulthood and not feeling ready. 

Are any of us?

Sometimes though for sufferers of mental illness, this transition comes with challenges that can be overwhelming to a breaking point.

“Help me if you can, I’m feeling down

And I do appreciate you being ’round

Help me get my feet back on the ground

Won’t you please, please help me”

It is a song about mental health that reminds us it is okay to ask for help when we need it.

19. “Paint It, Black” by The Rolling Stones

Jagger has often been a bit nonchalant when asked about the meanings of songs. 

He once said, “Paint it black means paint it black, I can’t get no satisfaction means I can’t get no satisfaction!”

We are then left to analyze and interpret.

The lines of black cars, the flowers, and the mention of a love that isn’t coming back are discussed in the lyrics and give us a hint.

On its surface, it appears that “Paint It, Black” deals with grief.

On a wider scale, feeling like you need to paint everything black is comparable to a nihilistic feeling that can sometimes take over when a person is emotionally low. 

They feel depressed and so they become hell-bent on embracing solely the negative.

At times they may even go out of their way to worsen a situation (Paint it black) because they only know how to deal with life in one mode. 

See also: Best Rolling Stones Songs

20. “Save Myself” by Ed Sheeran

The world should be “give and take”, but sometimes things are one-sided.

Sheeran puts it into perspective as he talks about giving his all and supporting others until he is emotionally drained. 

“I drove miles and miles, but would you do the same for me”?

Not receiving the same level of support from others leaves him numb and turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms. 

“Life can get you down so I just numb the way it feels

I drown it with a drink and out-of-date prescription pills”

But the overall message is a wise one, Ed reminds listeners to be responsible…

“So before I save someone else, I’ve got to save myself”.

We are works in progress and mental health takes work.

21. “Logic 1-800-273-8255” by Alessia Cara

The title of this song is the suicide prevention hotline phone number.

So you know we are dealing with the darker side of mental illness.

The track is also known as “1 Hour” which is easier to remember and say. 

In the track, Logic plays two roles.

He is a troubled soul calling the hotline at his lowest point.

He also later plays the operative giving advice, support, and guidance.

Rapper Logic was inspired to write it because he had often heard fans on tour say that his music had saved their life when times were tough.

He could only imagine how many more souls he could touch if he specifically tried to write a life-saving song.

Being written specifically to prevent suicide makes this one of the best songs about mental health and mental illness.

22. “Suicidal Thoughts” by The Notorious B.I.G.

Sometimes all we see is bravado and flexing in rap music but other times it is some of the most candid, vulnerable confessions the music industry can provide.

Like Logic’s track above “Suicidal Thoughts” discusses the triggering topic that its title suggests.

The rap is posed as a phone conversation, in which the protagonist gets everything off of his chest. 

The phone is answered by his buddy in the middle of the night and he spills his guts and pours his heart out quite viscerally, criticizing himself.

It wasn’t autobiographical, many think of the album Ready to Die as a concept album.

23. “Sad Rappers” by Tom MacDonald

This next rap is like an antithesis to those above…

As controversial as ever, Tom Mcdonald calls out rappers on falsifying their feelings to connect with an audience that suffers from mental health problems.

He insinuates that the music industry is exploiting people’s problems and misery.

“They’ve been preying on people with mental illness

And pretending to relate to getting paid and create a business

They claim to be anxious, say they’re depressed

They’re faking it to gain something in common with some fans for a check”

Perhaps there is an air of truth in what he says, what do you think?

“People die from depression, these rappers cry for attention

And it’s in every single genre you could possibly mention

From pop to electronic, to rock, to indie, to grunge

They’re tryna hook you into using the music like it’s a drug”.

24. “Disturbia” by Rihanna

“Disturbia” is a concept, it is a name for the dark suburb of your mind where all the negativity lives.

Rihanna’s hit opens with two questions that many people struggling with their mental health are more than familiar with.

“What’s wrong with me?”

“Why do I feel like this?”

She goes on to say she is going crazy and explains that she has no gas, is stuck inside her head, and feels like she is going insane.

All things which resonate.

The key section of the song that describes bad mental health perfectly is this one;

“It’s a thief in the night to come and grab you (uh-huh)

It can creep up inside you and consume you (uh-huh)

A disease of the mind, it can control you (uh-huh)

It’s too close for comfort, ohh”.

25. “Flagpole Sitta” by Harvey Danger

“Paranoia, paranoia, Everybody’s coming to get me”

If you give this one a listen there are some sexual references in it that many think make it a high-school coming-of-age track.

If you ignore masturbation, it touches on the social aspects of mental health issues.

Many of which teens struggle with.

“I’m not sick but I’m not well

And I’m so hot ’cause I’m in Hell”

The narrative overall is an apathetic one, the world makes little sense, it is full of idiots and hard to see the point. 

People often think of depression as being extremely sad.

But for many depression is a middle-ground where nothing emotes you, positive or otherwise. 

26. “Get Up” by Shinedown

“I know you’re clinging to the light of day

To tell you everything’s a-okay

And medication doesn’t do much

Yeah, it just numbs the brain”

The lyrics of this great song about mental health, say everything they need to. 

It is a song that reminds the listener they aren’t the only ones and encourages them to get up.

It has some great imagery that reminds them that they are capable of amazing things, they can move mountains.

“If you were ever in doubt

Don’t sell yourself short, you might be bulletproof”.

27. “The Climb” by Miley Cyrus

This inspirational country pop track is chock full of one-liners that make for great affirmations for anyone battling with their mental health.

The narrator’s faith is “shaking” but they will keep trying and keep their “head held high”.

“The Climb” can be attributed to any goal in life and any obstacle along the path.

But journeying through life with mental illnesses can make “The Climb” seem pretty steep.

“There’s always gonna be another mountain

I’m always gonna wanna make it move

Always gonna be an uphill battle

Sometimes I’m gonna have to lose

Ain’t about how fast I get there

Ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side

It’s the climb”

28. “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten

When we talk about dealing with our mental health we often use fighting words. 

We wrestle with it, we battle or try to combat it.

Rachel Platten’s simple pop anthem is the perfect song to cheer you on.

She describes feeling like a small boat against big waves and being in too deep. 

But the protagonist knows that she still has something left inside her bones and makes a powerful declaration;

“Starting right now I’ll be strong”.

This is poignant because a lot of mental health battles require a strong mindset.

Perhaps more poignant is this line;

“I might only have one match

But I can make an explosion”.

Powerful!

29. “In My Blood” by Shawn Mendez

“Help me, it’s like the walls are caving in

Sometimes I feel like giving up”

“In My Blood” is an autobiographical observation.

The singer is being very honest with his listeners.

The lines hit hard, the song is led by a heart-beat-like thumping that paces throughout.

He describes emotions in a raw blunt manner and admits that modern vices are a tempting crutch.

“I’m overwhelmed and insecure, give me something”.

Ultimately, it “isn’t in his blood” to give up, so there is a message of hope despite the situation.

30. “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)” by Metallica

Okay, so it might seem inappropriate to end with a song about someone trapped in a mental institution. 

For people with mental health issues, an asylum like the one described in this metal track can be their deepest fear.

But this is our last on-the-list entry. 

With the strong imagery and references it is a powerful song with mental health at its core. 

“Build my fear of what’s out there

And cannot breathe the open air

Whisper things into my brain

Assuring me that I’m insane”

Though fictional, it reflects real fears for many.

It is rumored that the band was inspired by the movie One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest when writing it.

Best Songs About Mental Health & Mental Illness – Final Thoughts

Songs about mental health are not hard to stumble upon. 

Perhaps it is because artists and musicians are creative souls and there is something intrinsic about the way they experience emotions heavily.

It is sad but fair to say there are countless examples of artists who struggle with their mental health.

The good news is that out of that battle with mental illness, some of the best songs about mental health are born.

Songs that hit the nail on the head and make you feel you aren’t alone in your thoughts. Songs that help pick you back up when you are mentally exhausted or feeling broken.

The best songs about mental health show the light at the end of the tunnel.

You may also like: Best Songs About Depression

Will Fenton

Will, the founder of MIDDER, is a multifaceted individual with a deep passion for music and personal finance. As a self-proclaimed music and personal finance geek, he has a keen eye for futuristic technologies, especially those that empower creators and the public.

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