Noah Kahan: music, mental health, and making change

By Margaux Burdess

Content warning: This article contains mention of depression and suicide, which some readers may find upsetting

On the 12th of November 2023, I stood next to my sister in excited anticipation for the arrival of Noah Kahan at 02 City Hall in Newcastle. Bursting onto stage energetically, and fittingly opening with ‘Northern Attitude’, Kahan’s performance was nothing short of phenomenal. 

I started listening to Noah Kahan’s music in November 2022. I was driving on the little country lanes around my house, and his words spoke to me like music hadn’t before.

For context, about a year ago I was at a very low, lonely, and afraid time in my life. Despite spending the summer in and out of hospitals, struggling with chronic pain, fatigue, brain fog and a myriad of symptoms, I was determined to go to university and have the experience I had dreamed of. So, I showed up to my freshers’ week believing that sheer determination would be enough to get through. A fake it until you make it if you like. I lived in constant battle with my thoughts. The more I tried to seem ‘normal’, the worse I felt. I didn’t think I would ever feel better.

“But I ignore things / And I move sideways”
Song, Growing Sideways

It’s the most nerve-wracking and vulnerable thing to share the most intimate parts of ourselves that we find more challenging to love. Being depressed and struggling with living seemed shameful during such an exciting time. I also hadn’t known anyone for very long, and understandably, it isn’t socially appropriate to share the deeper sides of yourself with people you have just met. It’s human nature to compare ourselves to everyone’s outward-facing social personas. We convince ourselves that others are better dressed, having more fun, more romance, more friends … less problems. We can be our own worst enemies. However, it’s important to remind ourselves of the shared human universal experience, the struggles we all tackle. Within my first few weeks of University, I reached a crisis point in my mental health. As an illness, Depression operates to make you feel completely isolated in your pain and you genuinely do believe that you are the only one to have ever felt like the walls are closing in.

“Love comes and goes but the big black dog, he trails along am I the only one who knows him?”
Song, Howling

It was a long journey back to wellness. I ‘should’ have been in Durham having the best time of my life, but instead, I needed to come home as I was not only physical unwell, but also enduring the pain of battling my mind. I started taking antidepressants which, much to my reluctance, I still take today. I spent an extra year doing the hardest thing anyone can do; being honest with themselves and those closest to them. Accepting myself and my diagnosis and taking the time to get better was the best decision I have ever made.

“Cause everyone’s growing / And everyone’s healthy / I am terrified that I might never have met me”
Song, Growing Sideways

It’s imperative for us all to find creative outlets like music. Noah Kahan’s beautifully expressive lyrics traverse the communication gap between the external social world and our inner selves. When we share painful experiences, we connect with each other in one moment, in one crowd, and know we are not alone. Kahan doesn’t need any of the smoke and mirrors that we have become used to in modern stage performance. He is an authentic musician in the real sense of the word; swapping guitars between songs and apologising about how sweaty he is on stage. He is an extremely talented, occasionally goofy, and hardworking human being – who is making an impact on people’s lives. Or, at the very least, an impact on mine.

“Don’t let this darkness fool you. All lights turned off can be turned on”
Song, Call Your Mom

Charity organisations are crucial as government resources are limited and there is an increasing need for therapy. Yes, supporting friends is essential, but mental illness is something that can only be tackled with professional support. Kahan has set up The Busyhead Project, a charity which has raised $1.9 million for mental health resources. This year, Durham University’s Charity Fashion Show (DUCFS) are collaborating with CALM, a mental health charity that campaigns against suicide, funds a confidential helpline, shares survivor stories, and supports those affected by suicide. These are complex and sensitive topics, but it is imperative that we try to make a positive impact. Whether that be like Kahan or as a student participating in the upcoming fashion show, no difference is too little. 

I certainly don’t have everything figured out. Some days I am low, or I feel randomly anxious, but I am learning to accept these moments. I am learning to be me, in every sense. On November 12th, I danced, sang at the top of my lungs, and let myself feel all the emotions that Kahan’s music evoked. I left feeling very grateful that I got to share an experience which will forever be in my heart. 

“So, pack up your car, put a hand on your heart / Say whatever you feel, be wherever you are”
Song, You’re Gonna Go Far

Illustration: Niamh Walker

One thought on “Noah Kahan: music, mental health, and making change

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