James Blake Speaks Out On Depression and Masculinity

In a new essay published online by Penguin, the outspoken singer-songwriter shares his personal struggles with mental illness, shame and accepting white privilege.

Grammy award-winning musician James Blake has never shielded his experiences with depression and anxiety from the public – in fact, this candid emotion regularly becomes the material for his shining music career, which has been celebrated for its raw honesty.

The singer-songwriter has also used his public platform to talk openly about mental health, releasing statements rejecting the ‘sad boy’ label for trivialising men’s feelings and sharing his experiences of “suicidal thoughts” on tour.

Now, the 31-year-old has released a new essay ‘How Can I Complain?’, published by Penguin last Wednesday. In it, Blake details his experiences as a mental health advocate but also as a cig-gendered, straight, white male, and the shame he has felt for battling depression despite benefiting from social privilege.  

Blake writes: “I started having the uncomfortable but rational thought that my struggle was actually comparatively tiny, and that any person of colour or member of the LGBTQ+ community could feasibly have been through exactly the same thing and then much, much more on top of that. A plate stacked until it was almost unmanageable. For me, it became embarrassing to mention my child[hood]’s portion of trauma and sadness.”

It’s refreshingly honest, to hear a celebrity – let alone a cig-gendered, straight white male celebrity – to acknowledge their privilege in such a stark way. But Blake also highlights the importance of not diminishing one another’s pain and the damage that comparisons can cause. 

Even while writing this I’m visited by the thought ‘Who even cares? There are much bigger problems in the world than white men who feel sad.’ (This is a bloody laughable thing to write your first piece on – get some perspective, arsehole, and put away your tiny violin.) But you know what? I’ll continue because I think we need to advance the conversation around mental health for everyone, and it’s the only experience I feel qualified to talk about.

James Blake

The essay has also been published in Scarlett Curtis’ It’s Not OK to Feel Blue (and Other Lies). Blake’s essay will feature among similar writing from more than 70 inspirational people including actress Emilia Clarke, BRICKS contributor Jamie Windust, supermodel Naomi Campbell and pop musician GIRLI. 

The book, which has already become a Sunday Times’ Bestseller, is available to buy now here, and Blake’s essay is available to read online here.