Life & Culture

Why Scott Hutchison’s Death Should Make Us Rethink Mental Health Discourse

The tragic passing of the Frightened Rabbit frontman shows that the ‘time to talk’ narrative isn’t enough

  • TextTom Connick

This Mental Health Awareness Week feels especially pertinent in certain circles. Last week, Frightened Rabbit frontman Scott Hutchison died by suicide, sending a shockwave throughout the music community. At just 36 years old, the singer had built a career as one of the UK’s most honest, compelling songwriters. Whether through Frightened Rabbit’s folk-rock anthemia, his own solo material, or the newly-unveiled Mastersystem side-project, Hutchison’s art pinned him as one of the most talented young minds in music.

What’s more, Scott talked. He discussed his own mental health struggles – and those of his peers – at any opportunity; in interviews and on-stage, directly to fans and through whatever means available. He talked, and talked, and talked, and when he couldn’t talk any longer, he sang. Frightened Rabbit’s music aches with Scott’s illnesses. Lyrically, he painted countless pictures of his struggles with depression, while his every performance, both live and on record, was testament to his emotional intelligence, and personal fragility. The heartbreaking similarities between his real-life passing and the lyrics to Frightened Rabbit’s Floating In The Forth are unavoidable.

“He talked, and talked, and talked, and when he couldn’t talk any longer, he sang. Frightened Rabbit’s music aches with Scott’s illnesses”

What happens when talk isn’t enough? The narrative around campaigns like Time To Talk has been invaluable in deconstructing the stigma that once surrounded mental health, but – despite Time To Talk’s opposite intentions – often only adds to the weight of the problem. In the wake of Hutchison’s passing, social media was flooded with messages pleading anyone struggling to talk about their issues; to reach out and be honest about how they’re struggling. It’s a potentially dangerous trend – one that can pile the pressure on the sufferer, and ignores gaping holes in both government policy and everyday behaviours.

In the depths of a depressive episode, talking can be an insurmountable task. There are days when even sitting up straight can feel impossible – much less opening your mouth an articulating the extent of your issues. The guilt that depression comes wrapped up in only serves to torpedo any attempt at reaching out, too; the feeling that your problems are inconsequential or that you’re ‘making a scene’ is an all-too common thread of depressive thinking. In my own experience, being told how important it is to talk has only increased my feelings of shame when I can’t find the words to do so, and prompted me to retreat further inside myself.

“It’s time to stop telling sufferers to talk... it’s time to reach out to those suffering, rather than relying on them to find the strength to speak up”

Elsewhere, there’s a severe lack of governmental action to match Theresa May’s supposedly well-meaning support of Time To Talk. NHS waiting lists for mental health services stretch on and on, while even those at the front of the queue are faced with uncertain diagnoses from doctors who are stretched thin at best, and unaware of the complexities of mental illness at worst. It’s a fact that’s exacerbated by lingering societal issues – from the misunderstanding of antidepressants, to the widespread, misleading use of ‘anxiety’ as a catch-all term for discomfort, as opposed to a diagnosable medical condition.

As a society, we need to strive harder for meaningful change. Government policy needs to be reevaluated – CALM’s campaign to make suicide prevention a government minister’s responsibility is an important first step. Social attitudes to illness and medication need to change. Talking is a short-term solution – we need to think long-term. In the meantime, it’s time to stop telling sufferers to talk. We need to rethink the discourse of our attempts to help – it’s time to reach out to those suffering, rather than relying on them to find the strength to speak up.