Country Artists Open Up About Their Mental Health Struggles

26 May 2021 | 11:38 am | Mallory Arbour

We feature numerous Australian and International country artists who have opened up about their own mental health struggles and illnesses.

Country Artists

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TRIGGER WARNING: The following article may distress some readers. If you need assistance, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636.

Mental health and mental illness are often mistaken for being the same thing. Hell, I’m sure even I have used them interchangeably on this website. However, they’re not. So, what’s the difference?

Mental health is defined by the World Health Organization as a state of wellbeing in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to their community.

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I think multi-award-winning artist, Fanny Lumsden said it best: “You have teeth, so you have dental health, and then you have brains, emotions and living, so you have mental health. It doesn’t necessarily need to be like so drastically down one way. It’s something that you have to keep a check on.”

Mental illness, however, significantly affects how a person feels, thinks, behaves, and interacts with other people. It’s what depression, anxiety and other neurological conditions fall under that requires a diagnosis. Just like any physical ailment, disease, or disorder, mental illness can happen to anyone—often without reason or warning. Some people can be cured, while others live with it.

The 2007 national survey found nearly half of all Australians will have a mental illness in their lifetime. Proving that you can have good mental health but be living with a diagnosed mental illness that is being treated successfully, or you can have poor mental health but not have a mental illness.

To end our series of Mental Health Awareness Month articles focusing on the importance and understanding of mental health/illness, breaking the associated stigmas, and overall, helping to do our part to make the subject less taboo, we’re compiled quotes from the brave Australian and International artists themselves, who, through strength and courage, have shared their own personal stories in hopes of helping others.

This list come from a variety of sources, from what I’ve witnessed their honesty has met with nothing but an outpour of love and support. Remember, if you're struggling you're in the majority. You’re never alone.

TRIGGER WARNING: The following article may distress some readers. If you need assistance, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636.

Grace Amos

Last year, the then 16-year-old Amos spoke about her struggles with anxiety from a young age.

She shared, “I think had over 50 days off one semester because I didn’t want to go to school. I would say ‘I was sick … I had a stomach ache’ and so Mum took me to see a therapist and we realised that stomach ache was probably just because of anxiety. I think Year 5 was kind of the year that it started, and I started to get help for it. There’s been ups and downs since then, and I’ve been on and off seeing a psychologist.”

Kelsea Ballerini

Ballerini has openly turned to songwriting to write songs about her insecurities, anxieties, and fear of feeling like she’s not good enough. Her vulnerability and transparency can be heard in her songs such as Homecoming Queen?, Overshare, Club, The Other Girl and la. She found help in therapy, and now makes her health, both physical and mental, a priority.

She says, “I used to think ‘me time’ was so narcissistic, but now I realise it’s necessary. I can show up in a more present way when I’m taking time for myself too.”

Brooks & Dunn

One half of the band, Ronnie Dunn has talked about the importance of therapy.

He says, "That old stigma that there must be something really wrong with you if you're going to a therapist, that's so dated. It's just someone who can sit down and talk to you on a personal basis, and they have the tools and the skills and the education to get to you beyond just business."

Adam Brand

Five years after his highly publicised divorce from his third wife, Dancing with the Stars professional Jade Hatcher, Brand spoke about how the end of his marriage and his Nashville dream lead to a long, difficult, and painful depression.

In 2017, Brand said, “I felt like a complete and utter failure. I felt everything I touched turned to dirt. Being unable to keep a marriage together which was the most amazing love story ever, unable to keep a record deal together that looked like it was written as a fairy tale. I was like a little hermit. I lost my confidence in everything — as a man, as a husband, as a brother, a friend, a performer — everything. Suddenly you are no good to man or beast.”

Chase Bryant

Earlier this year, Bryant opened up for the first time about surviving his suicide attempt, hoping that by sharing his story, it will help others going through a similar struggle.

In the emotional video posted on his social media, Bryant explained, “I was a very confused individual. I was very cocky, I was very arrogant, I was sick, very sick. I would look at myself in the mirror and I saw somebody that I didn’t know and that led me down a pretty dark hole for a really long time.”

Troy Cassar-Daley

Cassar-Daley has been open about how the loss of his father to suicide, his marriage falling apart and the inability to provide income during the pandemic helped shaped his 11th studio album, The World Today.

He says, “Over the last couple of years the family life and work life balance that I’d always had, shifted. It became a monumental struggle … I really hit rock bottom. Everything I’d known and loved was being taken away, I’d lost my Dad, I was losing my marriage and now I’d lost my ability to provide for my family. Recording the album had been put on hold and I had no gigs. I felt hopeless and my purpose was lost.”

He adds, “The first part of my day was to just feel sorry for myself. That would last about ten minutes. Then I'd have breakfast, have a great coffee, and get on with it and stop being such a sad sack. I’d sit in my studio and try and use all that angst and the feeling of loss and channel it into playing music. I found myself hiding in the studio for hours on end, trying to write my way out of the dark cloud that had descended on me, and I slowly found the answers in simply creating songs.”

Brook Chivell

In a 2018 social media post for RUOK? Day, Chivell revealed he had been receiving professional help.

He wrote, “I have my low times (very low) and I’ve been seeing a counsellor for the last 3 years. I’m not ashamed to say that I needed/need help to get through. Please, please, please if you are feeling low, reach out. There are people who can help.”

Imogen Clark

Clark doesn’t shy about from some big mental health issues on her new EP, Bastards.

She said in a statement, “Two things run in my family – anxiety and alcoholism. I've struggled with the former as long as I can remember, and I've seen the latter ruin so many people in my life.”

Luke Combs

While on The Big Interview with Dan Rather, Combs opened up about living with anxiety as well as purely obsessional obsessive-compulsive disorder, or Pure O, which causes continual overthinking.

He said, “It becomes this very obsessive thing that you literally can never have an answer to. That’s the awful part of it. You have to teach yourself to become comfortable with the fact that you’ll never get an answer and that it is a super uncertain thing. That is what I’ve particularly struggled with. Sometimes that’s tough, but it’s something that you learn about yourself. Arming yourself with the knowledge of exactly what’s going on is the most important thing, I’ve found.”

Brett Eldredge

Eldredge recently begun speaking more openly about his own struggles with anxiety and panic attacks and the importance of prioritising one’s mental health. Seeking to change his negative mindset into a more positive one, he sought professional help.

He says, “I'd get very negative about things, even when I woke up in the morning … Being a kid from a really tiny Midwest town ... I don't think I even really knew what a therapist was. It just wasn't really a thing ... You just think of it as something that's not for you or not gonna help you, or it makes you a crazy person if you go ... so it took me a long time to get to that place even to understand that it wasn't a shameful thing."

Aaron Jurd

Countrytown spoke to the NSW independent singer-songwriter about how hitting rock bottom had influence on his debut EP Changed.

He says, “I wrote my first single Set Me On Fire when I was at rock bottom. I had a lot of things been going wrong for a number of years and I couldn’t seem to get everything right. Everything I did fell apart and people I put trust in ended up burning me, which is how the metaphor of ‘set me on fire’ came along. Changed, the single, I wrote that as the resolution to Set Me On Fire, because I’d turned my life around, surrounded myself with people I wanted to be surrounded with and changed my mindset. I thought, ‘I can do this. I can do whatever I put my mind to. If doors keep closing, I’m gonna keep pushing through because you always get other ones that open.’ I’m still a pessimist at times – that’s just me – but I tried hard to step back, look at the bigger picture and make a go of whatever it is I might be doing. I think it’s important to have goals and work towards them.”

Brooke Lambert

Lambert showed remarkable strength after courageously telling fans on social media that she was drugged and raped after playing a solo gig. She continued to chronicle details of the events and feelings following the traumatic experience. Her single, Smile Again shows that while unspeakable moments can’t necessarily be erased, they don’t have to define or completely ruin you.

She says, “The weeks following consisted of abuse and threats to remove my statement against my rapist. My anxiety had gotten so bad that I couldn’t eat, talk or breathe without struggle. I’d developed a fear of my phone and my whole entire body would shut down when I heard it ring in case it was someone calling to abuse me again. Meanwhile, playing that night in my head over and over again … I was in therapy for 6 months, but it wasn’t enough. Not one day has gone by where I don’t think about this man and what he put me through. Every single day without fail, he occupies my mind. I pray that one day it will stop, but I’m not counting on it.”

Fanny Lumsden

Lumsden originally questioned if she was the right person to be an advocate for music industry charity Support Act, but she ultimately realised she could represent a different angle to what’s usually portrayed in the media for mental health.

She says, “You don’t have to be at one end of the spectrum to represent this and to talk about this. It’s still a thing for everybody … I’m very vocal about talking to my family or friends or getting professional help when I need it. I think it’s important. That doesn’t necessarily always mean a professional psychologist or anything like that. I got a nanny because my husband and I are both working flat out from home and then on the road and it’s really hard when you have a toddler running around. That’s made a huge difference … It’s just working out what you need to help you function.”

Hayley Marsten

As well as addressing the damaging beauty standards in the entertainment industry, Marsten opened up about the negative affects the pandemic had on her mental health.

She said, “To be honest, my mental health has been an absolute shit show this year even before COVID wiped my income out I was completely burnt out. I would burst into tears over the smallest things. I was obsessed with constantly working and I thought if I had even a day off, I was a huge failure and all the things I had built would fall away.”

She added, “Mental Health issues are something that I've always struggled with, I go to therapy to keep it all in check and I hate that we don't talk about it more because of the stigma that looking after yourself is shameful.”

Tyler Joe Miller

Although not originally written about mental health or illness, Miller’s single Fighting emphasises the message of ‘one day at a time’ that so often becomes the mantra of many, no matter their personal and/or professional situations.

Speaking about the writing process, Miller said, “I brought this idea to the table of struggling with myself and fighting with myself. I wanted to become a better man so, I was going through that process of being introspective and reflective on myself. And, just going, ‘I’m not really happy with where I'm at right now and realising that we all have our own demons hidden under our bed or in our closet. It's way better when you talk about them and realise everybody else has their own stuff too.”

Maren Morris

Morris spoke about her battle with postpartum depression, five months after the birth of her son Hayes with husband and fellow artist, Ryan Hurd in 2020.

She said, “You're trying to become a new mother and good parent and do everything right, and you just feel like you suck at every level. I’m kind of coming through the tunnel now. I feel back to normal. Fortunately, I was able to do phone therapy during the pandemic … And [I have] people that love me around me that are like, ‘Hey, if you’re drowning right now, there’s help.’”

She has also addressed her image struggles and the unhealthy pressure on mothers to get their pre-baby figures back.

She added, “We’re always extremely pressed to erase any evidence on our body that we had a child, that we housed a child for nine, 10 months. So, I just realised how unhealthy that was for me and my workout journey to be like I need to get back to where I was before because that’s not really the goal. It shouldn’t be the goal to just sort of erase the fact that you’ve had a kid.”

Kacey Musgraves

Musgraves recently spoke with People about how her ill-fated marriage to Ruston Kelly made her feel ‘broken’ like she was ‘dying inside’.

She said, "I felt, in many ways, on top of the world in my career but in my personal life, I felt like I was dying inside. I was crumbling. I was sad. I felt lonely. I felt broken. It was hard to not feel like I was in some ways a failure. There's nothing more shameful than staying somewhere where you don't fit anymore."

Shane Nicholson

Nicholson battled depression for years, he just didn’t know it. It wasn’t until his marriage ended when he suspected something more serious.

Nicholson says, “There wasn’t any big trigger but after my marriage ended I went to see a doctor and realised depression was something I had been living with forever. It had always been put down to other things, like he’s aloof or moody but I had been going through this for a long time.”

Old Dominion

Matthew Ramsey, lead singer of Old Dominion, told Billboard that writing the group’s single, Some People Do, tapped into such deep and uncomfortable emotions that he sought out a counsellor the next day and stayed with the process for at least two years.

He said in January 2020, “I’m still in it, and I’m so grateful for it. I wish I hadn’t taken so long to do it.”

Brothers Osborne

In an interview with CBS Sunday Morning, John Osborne opened up about his struggles with anxiety and depression while they were making their 2020 album, Skeletons.

Osborne said, "I remember calling our manager at the time. And I told him, I'm like, I mean, 'We can't go into the studio. I don't know what's wrong with me – I don't know why I'm not happy. I'm depressed. My anxiety is through the roof. I can't sleep. My ears are ringing.'”

He added, “I was very reluctant to say anything. We grew up in a culture where if you fell over and skinned your knee, you just get up, don't cry and walk it off. There comes a point in your life where you can't do that anymore and you need to stop and sort your shit out. With a lot of therapy, a lot of self-help, a lot of love from my friends and family – I was able to kinda get to a better place so we can finish the album.”

Carly Pearce

After both a divorce to Michael Ray (after eight months of marriage) and the death of her producer busbee to brain cancer in 2020, Pearce decided to seek therapy for help.

She said, “I became more open in my daily life with talking about how I’m feeling and owning whatever emotion is coming up. I think in the way you take care of your body, you have to take care of your mind—it’s a muscle as well.”

Natalie Pearson

In our interview with Pearson last November, she spoke candidly about how the COVID-19 had taken a toll on her mental health, admitting she has struggled with anxiety since she was a child. 

Pearson said, “It’s a very tough industry to be in and a lot of people I know do struggle with self-esteem, mental health, depression [and/or] anxiety. I, myself, have anxiety issues, which I’ve had since I was little. Sometimes it can physically make me pass out in a panic attack. I’ve learnt to deal with that and I’m getting better, but sometimes it does take control and you can’t see beyond it.”

Jasmine Rae

In the lead up to the release of her 2020 reflection album, Lion Side – which touches on her battles with anxiety and indecision – Rae took to her social media to address her mental health as well as a lengthy response to the death of fellow country singer and Australian Idol finalist, Kate Cook.

She wrote, “The fact that I’m an artist and have been offered many wonderful opportunities – chuck some guilt on there too for feeling shit when I have ‘no real reason to’... It can get incredibly easy to feel distanced from people we grew up with and our struggles can feel ‘unrelatable’ so we may keep them to ourselves … many artists are tapped into their deepest wells of emotion, which is great for making art. But not great for overthinking things and hyper-feeling things … I know I have created art in my darkest times, yes – but more often – I create a lot of mental anguish for myself. So that’s mental health as an artist.”

She added, “I isolated myself a whole lot. Hesitation because I couldn’t find the ‘right decision’ became inaction and more hesitation and I found it hard to make choices about ANYTHING! … I realised that comparison and perfectionism were an enemy and I fought against these enemy thoughts. I fought in spite of crippling fear, little by little, almost every single day.”

LeAnn Rimes

In 2012, checking in the day after her 30th birthday, Rimes spent 30 days in a facility to help manage her stress and anxiety.

She told People“At first I didn’t want to face my pain, because I thought I would get lost in it. But I didn’t. People are so ashamed to talk about it and ask for help. But taking away the shame is so important.”

She adds, “Growing up there was definitely a stigma around mental health and asking for help when you are struggling. So for me, checking myself into a mental health facility was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.”

Josh Setterfield

Setterfield’s self-penned track, The Way God Me shares his own personal struggles.

He said in 2019, “The Way God Made Me kinda was a shock to some people that know me. It's a true story about how I feel sometimes. I went through some depressive stuff last year where I didn't know who I was anymore, and I just didn't like anything about myself. And, sometimes this kind of thing just happens and it's hard to get out of. Then, I had some vocal problems this year, just before I thought I was getting out of all this and I just plummeted way back down into this dark depression ... hanging out with friends has helped me help me a lot. I’m not out of the out of the woods 100% as yet but the song was vent to get it off my chest.”

Morgan Wade

Wade’s track The Night goes deep on a person’s self-awareness of mental health struggles, suicidal ideations and the false hope of relief doctors and pharmaceutical companies promise their pills contain, as well as the stigma of opening up and talking about mental health issues.

She says, “I’ve just found that helping people a little bit helps me. I can’t do a lot, but I feel that if I’m honest about what’s going on in my life, people connect with it, and the majority of everything has been great. If I can just continue to be honest and work on myself and help somebody else in the process, maybe that’s what I’m supposed to do.”

If you are concerned about the mental health of yourself or a loved one, seek support and information by calling Lifeline 13 11 14, Mensline 1300 789 978, the Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467 or Beyond Blue 1300 22 46 36.

Images: Brand& Setterfield - Supplied / Morris & Ballerini - via Facebook