“I didn’t think I would ever make it to this age.” Billie Eilish
Just shy of her 18th birthday, singer and songwriter Billie Eilish has already achieved what many performers aspire to for their entire careers. The young Los Angeles-born star has been nominated for six Grammy Awards and has four platinum singles and eight gold singles in the U.S. Though fans love her music, they’re also drawn to her singular style. Eilish is known for her baggy clothing and unique fashion sense. Like many stars who have enjoyed a meteoric rise to fame, Eilish is not invulnerable to the toll that the entertainment business can have on a person’s mental health and wellbeing. Even before her career took off, the singer suffered from depression and other conditions that she continues to cope with today.
Billie Eilish: Her Career and Rise to Popularity
Eilish was born in 2001 and is currently the only singer born in the 2000s to have a number one song in the U.S. As a child of parents in the entertainment business, Eilish grew up in Los Angeles and was homeschooled. Her elder brother, Finneas, is also a performer and songwriter. The two collaborate on her music frequently. As a child of eight, she enjoyed singing with the choir but was eager to begin writing her own songs as early as age 11. Not long after, her brother wrote a song called “Ocean Eyes” that he performed with his band. They recorded the song with Billie singing it, released it online, and it became a smash.
“Ocean Eyes” opened the door to new career opportunities for Billie and her brother, who continues to write with her. Eventually, she released her debut album, “When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” Not only did Eilish garner throngs of new fans; she also began to achieve critical acclaim too. Her latest hit “Bad Guy” has topped the Billboard Hot 100. While Eilish is renowned for her musical talent, she is also revered for her unusual aesthetic. Her style is embodied by oversized and baggy clothing. She doesn’t want to be body-shamed or commented upon for the shape of her body. Unlike many entertainers who flaunt their skin and curves, Eilish is committed to keeping her star all about the music.
What Eilish Has Said about Her Own Mental Health
“I didn’t think that I would be happy again.” That’s what Eilish stated as she reflected on the depression she suffered around age 16. But that wasn’t the first time she experienced a profound mental health disturbance. Eilish reports that she has dealt with issues that include depression, anxiety, and self-harm since the age of 13. She believes that leaving dance behind was a trigger for the depression. According to an article about her battles with depression, “she suffered from body dysmorphia when she was a competitive dancer and said that she faced depression that started when she was forced to quit dancing after she ruptured a growth plate in her hip at age 13.”
In an article about Eilish in Rolling Stone, the singer revealed that she had severe separation anxiety and insisted on sleeping with her parents until she was 10. As a young child, she was diagnosed with Tourettes and still experiences occasional tics, but says she is usually able to suppress them. Her depression took a serious turn when she began to self-hurt. She said that she felt as if she deserved to be in pain. As fame set in, Eilish experienced panic attacks and night terrors. Being sensitive, feeling she wasn’t normal, and being uncomfortable in her skin only served to strengthen her depression.
Eventually, Eilish sought therapy for her struggles and, though she continues to cope with them, she says she feels happier than she’s felt in years. In fact, she stated that “17 has probably been the best year of my life. I’ve liked 17.”
Accusations of ‘Faking It’ (Depression) for Marketability
Many of us remember the tumultuousness of the teenage years. Some people have commented that Eilish simply experienced what many teens do— and, worse, that she is over-dramatizing her depression as a way to market herself. After all, she rarely smiles for photos and often dresses in black. She wouldn’t be the first artist to capitalize on relatable, depressive lyrics and unconventional lifestyles, but there’s a danger in making assumptions about anyone’s mental health state and little value in ‘gatekeeping’ who meets a threshold for depression.
According to clinicians, a person who experiences depression for two weeks should be seen by their healthcare provider. Clinical depression is not rare. Globally, more than 300 million people suffer from depression— people of all ages. Teens may experience emotional ups and downs, but when the downs aren’t accompanied by ups—and when other mental health problems accompany the depression (like anxiety and self-harming)—it’s essential to get help.
It’s always dangerous not to take someone’s depression seriously. On average, there are about 129 suicides a day. And in the U.S., that rate is climbing. Eilish has reported that the accusations have hurt her, but she does not regret opening up about her mental health because she believes that it could encourage others to get help and to understand that recovery is possible.
The Value in Making Mental Health Issues Visible
For decades, mental health conditions have been stigmatized. Suffering individuals and their families worked diligently to keep these conditions private. While it’s always a matter of personal choice to discuss one’s health, there’s a decided value when celebrities like Eilish choose to speak out about their struggles— whether or not we think those struggles are authentic. By focusing on these mental health issues and talking about them openly, the stigma is reduced. Less stigma means that more people will be encouraged to open up and share their struggles to ask for help.
Is It Healthy to Dwell on Depressing Things When You’re Depressed?
For many people, the experience of dwelling in sad music when we’re feeling blue is not uncommon. This commiseration in misery does make some people feel better, and it may be due to a few factors. First, the events and emotions we experience in life can be hard to consolidate. Life is messy. However, when something is in a song and can be easily digested, it gives a sense of structure to the world. This may ease the listener into a sense of order in the world. Second, as the phrase goes, misery loves company. When we find companionship in our sorrow we are less likely to feel alone and isolated in our sadness, which may help bring us out of it sooner. Eilish said to Rolling Stone, “Kids use my songs as a hug […], Songs about being depressed or suicidal or completely just against-yourself – some adults think that’s bad, but I feel that seeing that someone else feels just as horrible as you do is a comfort. It’s a good feeling. It’s someone to scream with.” Finally, the music is likely something the listener has turned to before and finds beautiful. All of these factors contribute to dopamine release that can lift spirits.
Conversely, during her interview with Rolling Stone, Eilish said that she had to stop watching horror movies even though she formerly enjoyed them. They exacerbated her nightmares, night terrors, and anxiety. That’s not surprising. According to psychologists, “ruminating” or brooding on negative thoughts can exacerbate symptoms of depression. That isn’t to say that visiting an amusement park will make one feel better, but it’s often helpful to try to avoid stress triggers and negative emotions during bouts of depression.
Billie Eilish is under no obligation to share her personal struggles or her private health issues. Yet, in doing so, she does a great service to other people who may also be trying to cope with depression, anxiety, and self-harm. Her willingness to be upfront and matter-of-fact about her problems and recovery can inspire other people to get help and to believe that their own recovery is possible.
Mental health conditions like depression and anxiety can’t always be cured— but they can often be managed effectively with the right treatment. Some people may experience a serious depression crisis, get treated, and never experience the same level of depression or angst again, while others may struggle with depression and anxiety on a routine basis. They might successfully manage it for a time but then relapse and need an adjustment in their treatment regimen. When depression or any other mental health issue pops up, seek help at a high-quality mental health treatment center like FHE Health. The sooner you get help, the sooner your recovery journey begins— and as Eilish says, it feels great to feel good.