Looking at mental health discussions in rap music

December 25, 2020
Miranda Hester

Ms. Hester is Content Specialist with Contemporary OB/GYN and Contemporary Pediatrics.

Pop culture can provide an avenue to discuss mental health. A report examines how often mental health is discussed in one of the most popular musical genres, rap.

Long stigmatized and not discussed in public, struggles with mental health have started to become more openly mentioned. Podcast hosts discuss going to therapy and television programs have character arcs that involve mental health issues. Even music has become a source of discussion for such issues. A report in JAMA Pediatrics looks into how often mental health is mentioned in popular rap songs, as the genre is one of the most popular and reaches a diverse audience of adolescents and young adults.1

The researchers look at the lyric sheets of the 25 most popular songs classified as rap in the United States from 1998 , 2003, 2008, 2013, and 2018 for a total of 125 songs. Each song was looked over to find references to suicide, depression, anxiety, stressors tied to mental health risk, and any metaphor that could suggest a struggle with mental health. The mental health references were categorized using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fifth Edition) and Mayo Clinic definitions. Stressors included concerns with work, love, any environmental condition, and the authorities.

Nearly every song had a lead artist from North America and 97 of those lead artists were Black men, with an average age of 28.2 years. Of the 125 songs reviewed:

  • 35 mentioned anxiety
  • 28 mentioned depression
  • 8 mentioned suicide, and
  • 26 utilized a mental health metaphor

The investigators found that during the study period that significant increases were seen in the ratio of songs that referenced depression (16% to 32%), mental health metaphors (8% to 44%), and suicide (0% to 12%). They also found that lyrics that referenced mental health were most likely to be connected to stressors linked to love life (adjusted odds ratio, 4.8; 95% CI, 1.3-18.1) and environmental conditions (adjusted odds ratio, 8.1; 95% CI, 2.1-32.0).

They concluded that mental health has become increasingly referenced in rap music. They urge further research into how these increase in references could be used shape mental health discussions with US adolescents and young adults. For now this information can serve as a potential launch pad for clinicians to discuss mental health with their adolescent and young adult patients.

Reference

1. Kresovich A, Collins M, Riffe D, Carpentier F. A Content Analysis of mental health discourse in popular rap music. JAMA Pediatr. 2020. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2020.5155