James Blake discusses his history of depression, “suicidal thoughts”

“There is this myth that you have to be anxious to be creative, that you have to be depressed to be a genius"

James Blake talks depression, suicidal thoughts, touring
James Blake, photo by Nina Corcoran

Last weekend, James Blake spoke as part of the Performing Arts Medicine Association’s annual symposium in Orange County. As Billboard reports, he specifically participated in a panel called “You Got This: Managing the Suicide Crisis in the Arts Population,” where he opened up about his own mental health struggles.

According to the British musician, he has suffered from depression and even “suicidal thoughts,” due to a busy touring schedule early on in his career. “I was taken away from normal life essentially at an age where I was half-formed,” the 29-year-old Blake said, referencing tours that took place around his first few releases, including his self-titled breakthrough debut from 2010.

The “Retrograde” singer explained how being on the road led to “surface level” interactions with people and, as a result, the suppression of his emotions. “Your connection to other people becomes surface level. So if you were only in town for one day and someone asked you how you are, you go into the good stuff…which generally doesn’t involve how anxious you feel [or] how depressed you feel,” recalled Blake.

(Read: 10 Songs That Get Real About Mental Health)

Blake said his unhealthy eating habits further exacerbated his mental state, to the point that he was regularly overwhelmed with feelings of existential depression. “I would say that chemical imbalance due to diet and the deterioration of my health was a huge, huge factor in my depression and eventual suicidal thoughts,” the Mercury Prize-winner shared. “I developed [dietary] intolerances that would lead to existential depression on a daily basis. I would eat a certain thing and then all day I would feel like there was just no point.”

The Kanye West and Bon Iver collaborator was also sure to clarify that — contrary to popular belief — his struggles with depression have had no positive impacts on his productivity in the studio. “There is this myth that you have to be anxious to be creative, that you have to be depressed to be a genius,” explained Blake. “I can truly say that anxiety has never helped me create. And I’ve watched it destroy my friends’ creative process too.”

The road to recovery for Blake started with EMDR therapy, “an experimental treatment that uses physical triggers like rapid eye movement to ‘reprocess’ traumatic memories.” His supportive girlfriend also assisted, as did cutting toxic people out of his life and scaling back on his touring.

“Honestly, a lot of catharsis just came in telling lots of people to fuck off,” said Blake. “And saying no. Saying no to constant touring. No [amount of] money will ever be enough.”

Blake has previously been outspoken about the topic of depression. In May, he posted a letter on Twitter railing against the “sad boy” label he’s often categorized under. “I’ve always found that expression to be unhealthy and problematic when used to describe men just openly talking about their feelings,” the artist noted. “To label it at all, when we don’t ever question women discussing the things they are struggling with, contributes to the ever disastrous historical stigmatisation of men expressing themselves emotionally.”

“We are already in an epidemic of male depression and suicide,” Blake added. “We don’t need any further proof that we have hurt men with our questioning of their need to be vulnerable and open. It is only ever a good thing to talk about what is on your mind.”