Back when I used to manage nightclubs and hotels in cities like Miami, Los Angeles, San Diego and Stockholm, I got a close-up view of how the entertainment industry can magnify mental health problems. When a drink or drug is always at arm’s length and the music is at highest volume, it becomes very clear that there is no room for depression or menthal health issues.
Music is unique in the way it connect us. It is truly like nothing else in the world. Music cuts across bounderies and differences no matter who you are, what you believe in, or where you are from.
A great song can send us through time and space, it can make us remember in detail, or make us wish we could forget.
Last Saturday I stood on an outdoor patio in central Stockholm and saw how hundreds of people joined in celebration and dance, when the local DJ finished the evening by doing a shout-out and a tribute to Tim “Avicii” Bergling. He started the final track of the night and the song echoed between the brick walls and glass windows of the upscale garden — Oooooh, sometimes, I get a good feeling, yeah! ...and I remember feeeling like I had heard nothing but Avicci songs play everywhere I went the past 24 hours.
The music increased in tempo and eyes met in the crowded space. The bar and seating area turned into a dance floor, and I felt instinctively that the scene unfolding around me was also happening at thousands of other venues around the globe this night, one day after we found out that Tim had died.
People didn’t talk, they danced. Some raised their arms over their heads and high-fived. Others hugged, looked deeply at eachother and nodded in agreement, as if to say to one another that 'it’s ok’. -But it was really isn't ok of course. Its completely fucked.
I’ve seen many friends escape their reality with alcohol, drugs and prescription medicines. When you work in nightlife very few will tell you not to smoke a joint or do a line, and even fewer to not have another drink or a shot. I’m happy to be working with business development and communications today, far way from late nights in charge of drunken people. Those years were more fun than I can explain of course, and I realize today that I actually gained a lot more from the experience than I used to think. However, if I had understood how the industry intensifies psychological problems I would have gotten out of earlier.
-Actually that's not right. I’d like to think that I would have.
A few days, or maybe a week before I heard about Avicii’s death I received a message from an ex-girlfriend. Her close friend and my acquaintance, Mikael had taken his life. He was 29 years old. Days passed and I thought a lot about our vulnerability, loneliness, and the closeness most of us crave to feel well. Then, it happened again. On Wednesday evening that same week I received a message from friends in the US; another person I knew with the same job I once had when i worked in Miami, Freddie, a manager at one of Miami’s most famous clubs had taken the same path. He was a bit older and left a young son behind.
There are no simple answers to why someone chooses to end their life... And when a person has everything that we in society see as a signs of success — like money, status and opportunities — it becomes extra difficult to wrap your head around suicide. The fact that we can’t understand seems to make us collectively frozen. It’s like we are unable to take actions to achieve change.
Hopefully we will become better equipt in the future at finding ways to counteract what is undoubtedly our times biggest public health problem. Among 15-to-29 year-olds, suicide is the second most common cause of death in the world according to the World Health Organization.
It is difficult to know how we as a collective should solve the problem of mental health, but I think we can all agree that there is value in talking much more about the subject, and to do our best to help young people better deal with difficult feelings — no matter the environment they find themselves in.
The unity we felt on that Saturday night, the closeness we experienced with perfect strangers at 2 am in the morning on that patio, moved to remember by a song — is something that I would like to see more of. Open minds and open hearts are necessary for us to carry on the conversation about mental health, and to achieve change.
I think it is time we have schools teach emotional intelligence (or something like it). It could help give young boys and girls a better understanding of stress, pressure and the feeling of being alone. Perhaps those kids in turn will solve the problem of depression all together? I would like to think they could. For Tim. For Mikael. For Freddie. And for the rest of us.
(Originally published in VICE on April 27, 2018)