Art as Mental Healthcare

Though South Asians who seek formal mental healthcare do well, music and art are informal avenues for those otherwise wary of institutions.


Dhruva Balram


May 8, 2019

On Ujjy’s debut album “Thank God 4 Death,” past the haunting, buoyant voices of his parents, he raps: “cause lately yo / see me hangin’ from a noose the thought of letting go / I’m suffocated help me please / I’m frustrated don’t let me breathe.” Like a blow to the ribs, the opening bars of the 12-track album knock the wind out of you. Ujjy’s masterful portrayal takes listeners on a journey through what it’s like to suffer from depression; it’s as if you’re floating in the ocean raft-less, willing to go under the surface and fill your lungs.

The album subverts expectations of mental health discussions in the South Asian community. Ujjy, part of a growing cohort of artists addressing the topic, collapses the boundary between listener and artist, guiding you down the most mangled parts of his psyche. He joins others, like Heems, who raps about addiction, and Leo Kalyan, who croons about mental health. Yet, the topic is still hushed up, kept walled within the community.

“I have a hard time talking directly about my issues,” Ujjy, born Ujjval Suri, said. Ujjy lives in Vancouver and moved to Canada from Delhi in the late 1990s. “Music, for me, is the vessel of my self-actualization. It is the thing that will reveal me to myself.”

In 2016, after a trip to India, Ujjy’s mental health faltered. “I was probably the most depressed I’ve been my whole life,” he confessed. “I was addicted to pills since Grade 11. I didn’t realize how much I liked uppers. I used to take these pills and not go to any parties, not see any homies.” Creating “Thank God 4 Death” brought Ujjy out of a dark time.

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