Remembering Ian Curtis And The Importance of Mental Health

The music world is no stranger to suicide and mental health issues. We’ve lost such great talents to suicide like Kurt Cobain, Elliott Smith and, more recently, Avicii and Scott Hutchinson.

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. and almost 45,000 Americans die by suicide every year. More than 90 percent of the world’s suicides are associated with depression and substance abuse and just attempting suicide is even more frequent—up to 20 percent more.

Even with statistics like these, no one can anticipate the pain suicide brings for not only the victim, but also the victim’s friends, family and loved ones. When Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis took his life on this day 38 years ago, it shook everyone to the core.

Though Curtis had attempted suicide twice before, Joy Division band members confessed they never really looked into the meaning of his lyrics until after his death. They said Curtis was very private about his struggles.

Joy Division “Transmission”

This is a common trait with depression—struggles are burdened alone, which causes isolation and negative thoughts to thrive. In Curtis’ case, the struggles probably felt even heavier due to the growing demand for his music.

The last album from Joy Division, their sophomore LP Closer, was recorded and set to release in July 1980 with a full U.S. tour to follow. However, Curtis hung himself May 18, 1980 in his kitchen with Iggy Pop’s The Idiot spinning on the record player. Control is Joy Division’s melodically darkest and lyrically most desperate album. Its full immersion into the new wave/post-punk sound was the first of its kind and coined the new term “gothic rock.” Bands like Siouxsie and The Banshees, Sonic Youth and The Smiths would follow in its path of hallowing synth and melancholic vocals.

Control is their most highly acclaimed piece of work having reached No. 6 on the UK album charts and was called NME’s Album of the Year that same year it was released. Before Curtis’ death the band had chosen the album artwork, which was already in production. After his suicide, the band was asked if this was still the way they wanted to go since the cover was a photograph of a tomb in a cemetery. The artist and the remaining band members decided that this is what Curtis’ wanted.

Though Curtis was a talented artist, we have to remember he suffered the same inner demons and turmoil as over one million of the world’s population does. Most of the time he may have been able to channel this suffering through his music, but in the end it was his mental illness that won. He also was fighting these issues at a time when speaking about depression or any mental illness was extremely taboo. Back then there was not a lot of help easily available for people struggling with suicidal thoughts.

Joy Division “Love Will Tear Us Apart”

Now, speaking up about your mental health is encouraged and reaching out for help isn’t as difficult as it used to be. Organizations like Punk Talks and Music Minds Matter, have started to pop up within the last few years that concentrate on helping people in the music industry. Perhaps if these were around in the past we wouldn’t have lost Curtis so soon or so many other suffering musicians to follow.