A lot of us (8.2 million in the UK, to be exact) will know the feeling well: you’re going about your day, when suddenly you can’t concentrate; your heart rate gets quicker, your palms start to sweat, your face feels flushed, and then an inexplicable but nonetheless very real sense of impending doom prickles through you, like a bout of poison pumping around your bloodstream. But it’s not poison—it’s the feeling of anxiety, and it can be utterly debilitating.
Granted, everyone experiences anxiety in a different way, and sometimes it’s directly attached to external problems that vary from person to person. But, despite the individual nature of anxiety and its causes, it’s a feeling that’s overwhelmingly familiar to more people than the mainstream media, and pop culture in particular, will have you believe. So many of us suffer with it privately, refusing to speak about it in the same way we would a physical problem, but as that public perception changes, so too does the willingness of sufferers to speak out.
Over the weekend, one such public figure was Zayn Malik, an artist who has almost 20 million followers on Twitter, and who is possibly one of the most famous pop stars that exist on planet Earth. In a letter published online, he explained how over the past few months, his anxiety has gotten increasingly worse. This has understandibly led him to cancel his debut UK performance at the Capital Summertime Ball. “I know those who suffer with anxiety will understand,” he writes at the end, “and I hope those who don’t can empathise with my situation.”
Today, in response to his letter, model Gigi Hadid (who is also his girlfriend), published an open letter on Twitter showing her support, and encouraging the support of others. “Z – I’ve seen the battles you go through and the way you fight to get to a place that allows you to get up there for your fans,” she writes. “Your bravery in those times makes me proud, but your honesty last night proved what you’re all about, being real. Human recognises human. You made the best of a situation and have given your fans an opportunity to understand you better as a performer. Those who can find compassion now are the ones that deserve to watch you grow. We are all here to support you and make each experience easier. Your talent and good heart will never lead you wrong.”
The importance of immensely prolific artists like Zayn Malik (and, also recently, Justin Bieber) being open about their struggles cannot be underestimated. The way we respond to their openness is also important. Lest we forget how the media ridiculed Bieber in March this year when he spoke about how meet and greets exacerbated his depression. Gigi Hadid’s response to Zayn Malik is how we should all respond to somebody who discusses their mental health: with empathy, respect and understanding.
If you are concerned about the mental health of you or someone you know, talk to Mind on 0300 123 3393 or at their website here.
Read our coverage of mental health in the music industry here.