Years and Years’ frontman Olly Alexander has opened up about his mental health issues, in a very frank interview with The Guardian.
The singer spoke to Owen Jones about the battles he has faced over the years, and why the NHS cuts to mental health services are unacceptable.
“I always had really, really bad nightmares, like night terrors or whatever they’re called,” Olly recalls. “I used to wake up in the middle of the night and not be able to move … I’d hallucinate and have really scary visions and dreams, so I wouldn’t want to sleep.”
Olly had a difficult childhood (although he is keen to deflect from a sob story, “I feel like: who hasn’t had a messy childhood?”) as he was bullied in school. “Kids can be so cruel at that age. I was obviously just visibly a weaker kid. I think kids are all focused on their hierarchy and status, and I was low status or something.”
In his teens, Olly also realised that he was gay after falling for his straight best friend, however he tried to convince himself that he was straight or bisexual. “I was like, ‘Please let me not be gay! … I’ve got enough to deal with!’” he said.
“Growing up in a straight world is difficult. Once you admit to yourself and to the world that you’re gay there’s an expectation that you’re fine now. Now you have to prove to yourself that you can be happy.”
“I think that’s something I’ve definitely told myself and struggled with. Of course I struggle and I’m going to get depressed and have anxiety [but] you tell yourself that you’ve struggled enough and you shouldn’t have those feelings.”
Olly also openly spoke about his treatment. After being referred to the NHS for therapy, he was given an anxiety drug and a “cocktail of medication”. He also had counselling but was only given a few sessions on the NHS. “They were really difficult to get. Really hard to get hold of. They took a really long time and because I was not very proactive in getting them – because the initial stage was phone conversations, and I would not pick up the phone, I didn’t really want to go, and I didn’t know if I really wanted to talk to someone about it.” As he was referred to different doctors, he would have to start his story from scratch every time.
Olly then went private when he was 19 years old and was given cognitive behavioural therapy. “CBT does really help you try and relearn ways in which you can deal with those moments of panic or crisis” he explained.
Of course, having experienced the lack of adequate mental heath services with the NHS first hand, Olly is clearly frustrated by any cuts to the services. “I care about mental health a lot. It’s affected me and my family a lot, and it annoys me there’s not enough provided and stuff has been cut where my family are from.” He says that to see a specialist back home, it can involve a 170 mile trip to Cambridge.
“And when I started trying to get a counsellor on the NHS about 10 years ago, there was a six-week waiting list. And now, I’m told, it’s like three months – it can be – or longer.” And, as he notes, “it feels like mental health is the first thing to get cut”.
Olly shared that a lot of fans have reacted positively to his honesty by sharing letters, tweets or Instagram posts with the singer. “So many of them deal with mental issues, mental distress and it’s really so overwhelming”.
Mental health issues can affect anyone whether you’re an award-winning singer like Olly Alexander or a normal human being. He reminds anyone that is struggling to ask for help. “The first thing you start to think is you’re alone and you’re crazy. There is a support network out there … make use of it.”
It’s refreshing to see a pop star speak so openly and be so positive about a topic which unfortunately still has so much stigma attached to it. We can only hope that having someone like Olly share his experience will encourage those who need it to get help. Hopefully, his experiences will also further highlight the importance of having more mental health services readily available.
You can watch Olly Alexander’s full interview below.
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Photo Credit: Graeme Robertson for The Guardian