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Talking about mental health through spoken word poetry

Wednesday, 12 October 2016 Samuel Cole

Samuel blogs about raising awareness of mental health and expressing himself through spoken word poetry.

Heart Cry is a spoken word poem about the experiences of young people suffering with mental illness - in particular depression and anxiety.

I love spoken word poetry because it allows me to tell gripping stories in a captivating way. I enjoy music also, and so I have always thought it would be cool to combine the two - hence why Heart Cry is very much a song as it is a poem.

Originally when I wrote 'Heart Cry', I started with a sole intention of speaking generally about raising awareness about mental health.

I have struggled with anxiety in the past, but have now thankfully overcome it.

But as I began writing I thought it would be more effective to paint a picture of what mental illness actually looks like in the lives of two young people (a boy and girl) based on my own experiences.

Sometimes it is easier to connect an audience with a message by illustrating it with an image – so that’s why I chose to create a story with these two characters.

Maybe there will be a boy and a girl out there who hear it and can relate to it.

"To build up the lyrical content in the first two verses, I poured my own experiences into them."

Thinking back, I can’t put a finger on what triggered my anxiety, but it was similar to a cold that I couldn’t shake off.

This is why the lyrics written for the two verses are so specific – I wanted to dig deep and communicate how I felt. The lyrics in the song reflect back to my own experiences, in particular the following:

Verse 1: He longs for some kind of peace to prevail.
Expecting that the piercing pain and seething sorrow will fade, 
fighting hard to keep the black dog at bay,
but the scars of his conflict mean he will never be the same.

Verse 2: Heavy anxiety weighs on her chest like a tonne of gold, 
causing her face to shine like a tonne of bricks, 
when was the last time she smiled to leave anyone convinced?

It's very easy to tell people things are ok when they are not. Giving the impression that all is well when actually there is an inner conflict going on - that is what i was trying to communicate here.

The lyrics also came from a place of frustration.

"It bothers me that children can be struggling through bitter episodes of depression or anxiety and their guardians have no idea."

Is it because the kids are very good at hiding it? Is it that their guardians are not attentive? Or is it a combination of both?                          

The instrumental created by Jason Nolan is very unusual but fitting (I think).

The instrumental is meant to capture the rollercoaster of emotions and moods of somebody who is struggling with the issues spoken about on the track. The pace of the sound is quite slow and measured at the start, but really picks up as the track continues – before reaching a high climax at the end  

"Mental illness is complex and should be spoken about with care. The instrumental hopefully reflects this."

If you listen very closely to the track you will hear all sorts of little details which help paint the picture of these experiences (a child repeating they are ok, an erratic parent shouting at their child to eat, a relative teasing their niece for their looks).

Towards the latter half of the track there is more momentum.

I didn’t just want to write about the experiences of mental illness. I wanted to speak about hope, the possibilities and the reasons to persevere through difficult periods.

This is why the second half of the song has a chorus section singing words of encouragement, and a final verse which is more resilient.

"The final verse is explicitly personal, but is intentionally hopeful."

It explains my mindset currently, where I choose to be as determined as possible to keep my head up and push forward, even when I am not feeling 100% alright.

It was my Christian faith that helped me and continues to give me an inner strength and confidence to be resilient and hopeful during my struggle. To not give up.

Speaking to God helped me greatly. For me, there was great liberation in speaking about what I was going through and so I would encourage anyone who is going through these issues to speak out to someone they can trust.

I used to question why I went through these experiences, but looking back I realised that my story might help someone else believe that it is possible to conquer their battle and to win back their smile.

Information and support

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