Country singer and songwriter Hunter Hayes hopes his music can help to remove some of the stigma surrounding conversations about mental health.
Hunter Hayes has connected with millions of listeners by singing about his deeply personal experiences, but he wasn’t always so confident about opening up.
“I write about a lot of my personal experiences, but the dream is that the songs I write are taken and owned by everyone else,” Hayes says. “There is this fine line of how much of my own life do I share, and how much will other people connect with?”
After his first album with record label Atlantic Nashville went platinum, Hayes was encouraged to express more of himself in his music. In the following album “Storyline,” he explored mental health issues in his song “Invisible,” which confronts isolation and depression.
“Invisible’ was really the first time I let the world into that side of my life and my heart — things that previously I thought I wasn’t allowed to write about,” Hayes says. “I’ll never forget the response. I just wanted one person to hear “Invisible,” and for it to matter to them and change their perspective.”
Since the success of “Invisible,” Hayes has become an advocate for open discussions about mental health. “It was empowering other people, and I’ve learned the importance of sharing that part of my story,” he says. “That song opened up a door and changed my perspective on what I’m allowed to share.”
Feeling support is one of the most important factors in talking about mental health. For Hayes, those supportive people have often been his co-writers. “I cherish their input because they are absolutely critical in helping me figure out how to share the things I want to share,” he says. “Bonnie Baker and Katrina Elam are my co-writers, and I love being in the writing room with them, even now in these weird Zoom sessions.”
Hayes says that even one person can make the difference in feeling less alone. “It does take that one person to let you know that it’s okay to write about it.”
For Hayes’ recent birthday, he partnered with To Write Love On Her Arms, an organization raising awareness about suicide prevention. “I’ve been really lucky to have done some campaigns with them for three years,” he says. “I cherish organizations like that who are changing conversations around those things, because sensitive topics do still need to be talked about.”
Talking about mental health can often be the hardest place to start. “It’s hard to tell somebody who feels alone that they’re not alone, because the feeling is the feeling,” Hayes says. “I’m still figuring out how to talk about these things because I don’t feel qualified. I just think it’s important for people to hear as much as possible that they’re not alone.”