Open Letter to Sinéad O’Connor

Dear Sinéad O’Connor,
I am writing, of course, in response to your highly-publicized communication with Miley Cyrus. I assume that your intention in contacting Cyrus was not to spark a celebrity feud to be weighed in on by tabloids and bloggers, there’s really no putting the toothpaste back in that tube, so I hope you don’t mind if I join the conversation.

You’re coming from the right place, Ms. O’Connor. You’re coming from an informed, well-meaning, enlightened place. You reached out to a young artist who was in a position you recognized as dangerous and offered your experience as a means of reaching her with advice that you saw as important. I sincerely believe that Miley Cyrus’ choice to use nudity and sexualized imagery in her work is her own, and is her genuine self-expression, but I applaud you for respectfully bringing your concerns to her.

When your letter was met with rudeness and mockery, you did something else for which I applaud you: you boldly called Cyrus out on ridiculing celebrities who have lived with mental health struggles, and demanded an apology. You spoke up for yourself and others whose mental health difficulties have been exacerbated by taking place in the public eye. You called her irresponsible, and you very plainly informed her that “Mockery causes death.” Your strong stance against mental health stigma is appreciated.

However, I take some issue with the way you expressed yourself to Cyrus. The following passages from your second and third letters, respectively, were profoundly hypocritical, and detract heavily from your argument:

“You will yourself one day suffer such illness, that is without doubt. The course you have set yourself upon can only end in that, trust me.”
“When you end up in the psych ward or rehab I’ll be happy to visit you.. and would not lower myself to mock you.”

How does it serve you to chidingly predict that Cyrus will become ill and be hospitalized? These comments, to me, read as just as offensive as Cyrus’ comments to you. Your letter simultaneously castigates Miley Cyrus for not taking mental health seriously while attacking her own, despite your having no knowledge of her actual health situation. To threateningly use an ill-informed guess at a person’s future mental health (something you have no authority, or right, to do) as you did is a sign that you’ve let your emotions get in the way of forming a composed, level-headed response to Cyrus.

Furthermore, I feel that to repeatedly call Cyrus “anti-female” is a harsh characterization, and demonstrates a limiting and closed-minded perception of what it means to be female. Amanda Palmer has already written to you on this topic much more eloquently than I am equipped to, but I feel it necessary to express that I wholeheartedly stand with her on a woman’s right to be in control of her own sexuality.

That said, I thank you for being a true and genuine advocate for mental health. Thank you for using your voice and your respected (albeit controversial) place in the culture to speak out for people who are often made to feel afraid to speak for themselves. As a fellow advocate, however, I ask that you please take more care in the future to speak with fairness so that your valuable perspectives about mental health stigma can make the impact they deserve to.

Best wishes,
Jared Wolf


Best of 2012: Mental Health in Music

Music and mental health go pretty much hand-in-hand. Music “soothes the soul,” keeps us centered, and lets us express to the world who we are.

As 2012 comes to a close, the time seems right to honor some songs that contribute honest, sensitive, and meaningful statements on mental wellness and illness. While mental health plays a role in the meaning of all music, these are songs that are about mental health in a more explicit or specific way. They’re all by artists whose music runs the gamut in terms of subject matter, and most of them didn’t write or perform them with mental health advocacy in mind. Through their honesty and remarkable talent, though, they are all advocates, and I thank them.

Here are my picks for the top three songs about mental health in 2012:

1. P!nk – The Great Escape

The superstar (read: future legend) who told us we were “fucking perfect” in 2011 has now given us this album track, an urgent but gentle ballad that asks us to do one (sometimes) simple thing: live.

2. Elizaveta – Dreamer

Without question one of the most beautiful and hopeful songs I’ve ever heard. Elizaveta’s full debut album, Beatrix Runs, is my pick for the title of best album of the year.

3. Fiona Apple – Every Single Night

Anyone who’s ever dealt with overwhelming anxiety knows exactly what alternapop veteran Fiona Apple means when she sings “Every single night’s a fight with my brain.”

And some other favorites, in no particular order:

fun. – Carry On

One of the ultimate “I know you’ve got it rough, but please just keep going” songs.

Kelly Clarkson – Dark Side

In what is more or less a companion piece to her masterpiece “Maybe,” Clarkson sings one for the people who know what it’s like to be something other than yourself sometimes.

Of Monsters and Men – Little Talks

They were mysteriously snubbed by the Grammys, but maybe being on this list will mean something to Icelandic folk artists Of Monsters and Men, who broke through with this catchy duet about grief. Its exact meaning is unclear, but, after all, “the truth is varied.”

Kacey Musgraves – Merry Go ‘Round

That this dark and honest piece has become the hit that it has marks a major shift for country radio, which just a few years ago would never have welcomed a song about drug addiction by a new artist. There’s no happy or hopeful ending, just the all-encompassing and all-important question of what the pressures of today’s American life mean for all of our well-being.

Ed Sheeran – The A Team

A heartbreaking tale of addiction and homlessness

Lauren O’Connell – Things are Alright

Under-recognized singer-songwriter Lauren O’Connell is at her rawest in this honest and pained guitar-and-voice-and-nothing-else- piece about depression. Sometimes you just need to know that someone else gets it…

Florence + The Machine – Shake It Out

… And sometimes you need someone to kick you back into shape, like Florence Welch does with this explosive and empathetic hit about coming to terms with your flaws and limitations and starting over.

Alabama Shakes – Hold On

Rounding out the pack is a bluesy-folk ode to the power of perseverance from one of the year’s most promising new artists.

Be sure to leave your comments below.. Are there any songs you wish I had included?