On "The Great Depression," As It Is examine the ubiquity of mental illness and its largely overlooked repercussions. (Image Via Billboard)
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‘The Great Depression’ cycles through the stages of grief, exploring the spectrum of mental health on the way.

British-American pop-punk band As It Is just released their third full-length album, “The Great Depression,” to capture the reality of mental illness in today’s society. In previous albums, the band has been known for songs expressing depression and heartbreak, such “Can’t Save Myself” and “Sorry” from their 2015 album, “Never Happy, Ever After.”

“The Great Depression,” their first album focusing solely on mental health, tells a story about a man, known as The Poet, who comes face to face with Death. As It Is lead singer Patty Walters described the album’s story in Rock Sound Magazine: “The Poet has a wife, and basically the concept of the record is a guy who is struggling so much that he is beginning to speak with Death … He’s just speaking to Death as if he would speak to his wife and they’re both trying to do what’s best for him,” Walters said. “His wife is trying to get him to see the beauty in life and live a life with her, and Death is trying to take his suffering away and say, ‘I can make the pain go away.’”

The album can be divided into four of the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining and acceptance, with the stage of depression found in every song. Each of the four stages includes three songs, and leading the album into the journey is the song “The Great Depression,” which lays out the foundation for mental illness by introducing fans to The Poet and his life of struggling with depression. “We live in The Great Depression” refers to the society of mental illness, not the past economic downfall that one might expect.

“The Wounded World” is the second song on the album and the first single As It Is released before the album’s debut. As one of the most important tracks on the record, its lyrics are straightforward, communicating the role society plays in shaping people, weighing them down with expectations, judgment and ridicule. “The Wounded World” refers to the group of individuals struggling with mental illness because others see them as broken, “wounded” and different from those who aren’t struggling.

“We’re pointing the finger / That’s pulling the trigger / And in case you haven’t heard / We’re all to blame for the wounded world,” Walters sings. The band acknowledges the denial society has of its part in causing depression and other mental illnesses. The chorus speaks of people pointing their fingers at the ones with depression, seeing them as the reason for their own struggles, when, in reality, society is the one who’s “pulling the trigger” and bringing about the problems. The denial people have is prominent in the lyrics, “I know this isn’t something you’re going to like to hear / Which is exactly why you need to hear this.”

The denial phase of the album ends with the song “The Fire, The Dark,” which portrays self-destruction during a time when the love between The Poet and his wife is at risk, the self-destruction being a reason for the damaging of the relationship. Walters sings, “What have I done? / I’ve made mistake after mistake / I need someone / Why’d I tear myself away?” Representing the self-destructive behavior of The Poet, the lyrics explain the harmful effect of people isolating themselves as a result of mental illnesses.

Moving into the anger phase, “The Stigma (Boys Don’t Cry)” acts as an anthem for all men who are expected to conceal their feelings and told to “man up” simply because of gender expectations. Depicting toxic masculinity, the song’s chorus is evident of the stigma: “Stay strong, hold on / You’ve got to keep it together now / Just dry your eyes / ’Cause boys don’t cry.” Regardless of someone’s gender, no one should be told they can’t have or show feelings, because all humans do, and As It Is shares those thoughts with fans in this song.

“The Handwritten Letter” is a song in the form of a love letter from The Poet to his wife, telling her, “I need you when I’m bruised and broken / It’s all that keeps me here and hoping.” He admits his weaknesses, one of which is not feeling like he’s enough when he’s “out on his own.” The song follows “The Stigma” and allows The Poet to express his feelings despite what others think about gender expectations.

Having a gentler beat, “The Question, The Answer” is The Poet’s mind wandering to the end of his relationship with his wife and the end of his own life. He wonders how his relationship will end but also contemplates suicide. Walters sings, “Is it also a beautiful nightmare, on the other side? / Will I send my breath to a lost prayer, will it change my mind?” The Poet is wondering if his pain will end if he died and if he’ll decide not to commit suicide if he prays. With mental illness comes suicidal thoughts for many people, which is what this song emphasizes.

The album enters the bargaining stage in “The Reaper.” The Poet has attempted suicide and is now facing Death but has realized he no longer wants to die. “He leaves my wrists untied / Offers his hand, and he tells me to decide / Now I’m begging him to let me keep my wasted life / Please, it’s not my time,” Walters sings. As It Is wants to make it clear that many people struggling with mental illness attempt suicide, and those who have survived their attempts realize they don’t actually want to die; they just want the pain to go away.

In the song “The Two Tongues (Screaming Salvation),” The Poet finds himself in a situation in which he needs to choose between his wife and Death, as they both give him something to look forward to. “Her voice like a sunrise / His voice like temptation,” Walters sings. “She sings to me softly / He’s screaming salvation.” However, he knows he no longer wants Death, so the temptations Death gives him don’t appeal to him anymore.

In “The Truth I’ll Never Tell,” The Poet withdraws the expression of his feelings and chooses to conceal them like people expect. He says, “And I could tell you how I’ve really been / But would you even want to know? / Don’t want to bring you down, down, down.” He’s seen what expressing his feelings can do to others, so he doesn’t want them involved. In society today, when people express their feelings, they are judged for it and it can cause others to feel down, so people end up keeping their feelings inside even though it does more harm than good.

The last stage is acceptance, and it begins with the song “The Haunting,” which tells the tale of a suicide, not necessarily about The Poet. Suicide is a serious topic, and taking one’s own life is tragic. Unfortunately, mental illness can lead to this event, and it doesn’t only impact the one who has died. The bridge in this song, sung by the band’s vocalist and guitarist, Ben Biss, shows the result of the suicide: “Can you feel your sister staring at your grave? / And would you take it back if you could see her face?” As It Is wanted to make the effect clear for those with mental illness because they don’t need to end their life to stop the pain, and if they do, it will hurt others.

The Poet’s story continues in “The Hurt, The Hope” when he uses self-harm as a coping mechanism to take the emotional pain away. “Because we all / Need to feel release / Because we all / Wanna be at peace” is part of the chorus. Just as suicide can be a result of depression, so can self-harm, which also should never be taken lightly. At the end of the song, The Poet repeats the line, “It’s got to get better,” as he has some hope for his future.

Completing the album, “The End” brings The Poet to accept all he’s been through, and it leaves him coming to terms with the fact that “nobody’s listening.” It’s the case for many people with depression, as many believe no one cares enough to help them. To end the song and album, The Poet repeats, “This is the end,” which Walters explained, saying, “The most beautiful ending we could have given the record is where you can reach your own conclusion, or you can believe there is a conclusion in what we’ve written.” The ending of the new As It Is album is up to fans’ interpretations. Does The Poet live or die in the end?

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Michelle Dreyer

Southern New Hampshire University

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