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Calum Scott: ‘Pouring my heart out is the only way I can write’

Singer and songwriter Calum Scott writes honestly about his mental health issues and how he reached the other side

Sometimes I feel silly for saying what my songs are about. Occasionally I feel ashamed. Not for what I’ve been through, but because putting it out there is hard. Do I want everyone to know? Will it change how people perceive me? It’s the response from my fans which makes it worthwhile. Through music, I’ve learnt that sharing stories can help mental health.

Pouring my heart out is the only way I can write. I’ve tried writing songs about going to a club and getting blind drunk, but it doesn’t work for me. My sessions are more like sitting down with a friend over a cup of tea or a glass of wine and having one of those chats – you know, what’s wrong, tell me, I can see something’s up…

‘Bridges’, the title track of my new album, is about my experience of feeling suicidal in my early 20s. For reasons that I only later understood, I was in a dark place, deeply unhappy and overwhelmed by negative thoughts.

It’s a literal song, about a bridge near where I grew up in Yorkshire. That bridge was part of my life, always there and, for a couple of years, always calling me. My mind would venture there, first as a place of contemplation, to chew over what was going on in my head, never in a positive way.

It became the place I would find myself crying, staring over the side, wondering if today would be the day – my last day.

I wrote Bridges with Danny O’Donoghue from The Script and my incredible producer Jon Maguire. I needed help to tell that story, I doubt I could have done it alone. I’m not sure I’m brave enough.

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No one is exempt from mental health, no one is fine all the time

I’ve been an advocate of mental health in the past, but I’ve never written as personally or revealed as much as I do on Bridges. My song ‘No Matter What’, from my first album, was about my journey of coming out as gay, particularly as a Northern lad. I was scared of releasing that song as a single because I didn’t want my sexuality to become the focus of my career, but the response to it was incredible. It spurred me on for Bridges.

The difference was that ‘No Matter What’ spoke to a certain community of people. Bridges speaks to everybody. No one is exempt from mental health, no one is fine all the time. To whatever degree, everyone can have dark days. The more people a song like Bridges reaches, the more of a responsibility it is.

Writing Bridges felt like walking a tightrope. You don’t want to depress people. There has to be an element of hope. That’s hard when suicide is your subject matter. You can’t say ‘Hey, I almost killed myself… but I didn’t. Hurrah! Go check out my new single.’ You have to be sincere, speak straight from the heart or you can’t expect to connect with people who have been through something similar. They’d see straight through you and think you’re a fraud.

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When you’re on TV, your insecurities don’t go away, they get amplified

The hope in Bridges is that the song takes place in the past tense. And there’s the closing line when I use the bridge simply to reach the other side.

What helped me get there? Counselling. The day that I had almost committed to jumping off the bridge, the one thing that stopped me was how it would impact my mum. Mum brought me up alone after my dad left home when I was two so the aftermath of me not being here anymore for her, for the rest of her life, pulled me away.

For a while I told no one. I went to work the next day at Hull City Council, trying to pretend it hadn’t happened. Afterwards I remember feeling so empty, sitting in my car, sobbing my eyes out and trying to find the courage to call my doctor.

I was already on a waiting list for a counsellor. I told them I was terrified that if I didn’t speak to a professional soon, I might do something stupid – I was lucky, I saw someone within a week. It was such a relief to talk, to admit how I felt without being judged. That was the start of me getting my confidence back.

There’s a perception that when you’re in the public eye, that you’re in a good place mentally. Your life is hunky dory, your problems have evaporated. In fact, it can be the opposite. I only began getting panic attacks when I was on Britain’s Got Talent. It was such a massive change to my life, all this expectation out of nowhere. When you’re on TV, your insecurities don’t go away, they get amplified.

Inside I don’t feel any different than I did when I was working in HR at the council. I’m as emotional, sensitive and vulnerable as I’ve always been. I still get hurt as easily. I still have issues that mean I have to take care of my mental health.

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You are with your own brain for the rest of your life. Ignoring it isn’t an option

Sometimes I find it hard to look at myself in my mirror. I still wonder why my dad didn’t stick around – was it my fault? Therapy has helped hugely. Having my debut album go multi-platinum with 7.5 billion total global streams and counting definitely didn’t erase my problems. I’m grateful for it, I love my job. I feel incredibly lucky. But I’m still the 14-year-old whose friends all walked away when I told them I was gay.

What have I learnt about mental health? That there’s no one magic solution. Better mental health is about discovery and learning. If something doesn’t work straight away, stick with it. It’s not a race. Find your own pace. Work out what helps you feel better. You are with your own brain for the rest of your life. Ignoring it isn’t an option.

Calum Scott. Credit: Tom Cockran
Calum Scott. Credit: Tom Cockram

For me, fitness, talking to my mates and writing songs are key. It’s still easy for me to spiral so I count the little wins, every day – maybe getting a line of lyrics right, answering a few emails even, sometimes even just making my bed I count as a win.

I used to sit at my desk in HR listening to people moan about off street parking and thinking my life would never get better than that. It seems surreal to say, but looking back, being on that bridge was the beginning for me. When I walked off it and asked for help, my better life began.

Calum Scott’s sophomore album Bridges is out on 17 June. Tickets for his UK tour are on sale now at calumscott.com

If you need someone to talk to, contact the Samaritans or a similar mental health organisation

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