Big Narstie on our generation’s dangerous cycle of mental health troubles

Grime megastar Big Narstie knows the importance of role models. The advice he offers to troubled youngsters as Uncle Pain on YouTube comes from his own struggles. He describes how shortfalls in mental health care are leaving a generation trapped in a dangerous cycle

A lot of the violence that we’re seeing among young people is the result of their background. You’ve got to look at it like this: in a simple experiment, if you take one child and leave him in a perfect and comfortable environment, and you leave another child in a destructive and aggressive environment, you’ll see different symptoms.

Prime example: if you grew up and your parents were drug addicts, you might think it’s normal to have a line with your breakfast. Compare that to Jonathan, whose parents don’t do drugs. What you see becomes normal.

Part of the problem is a lot of kids have kids and then can’t cope. If a kid is born into a tough situation with no means of dealing with it, you end up with kids who are mentally ill and have no way of reaching out. It becomes a vicious cycle, especially in cities such as London. Being under-educated and under-financed will leave you in a place with anxiety and depression. Imagine being stuck in a place when you really want to travel or go out and experience things, but you’re held back by lack of finances or mental health problems. Truth be told, you’re in prison. Just with better scenery.

How can you hope to get out? In London especially, most of the crimes aren’t like old-school East End mobster crimes, like grabbing 50 million quid from a train robbery. These people are robbing shops for maybe £200, maybe £5,000 at the top end. They’re not about luxury, but survival and desperation. You’re broke, crammed in a tight place and you’ve got no release. You’re giving out all the CVs you can and you’re still not getting anything.
You’re stressed out and want to vent, but you’re trapped.

Post-traumatic stress makes violence another vicious cycle. If someone has seen two people being horrifically stabbed in front of them, that changes their reality and you’ve got to expect them to cater for the new reality they’re in. They’ll become scared, and will be far more likely to carry and use weapons. Before that incident, they thought the world was all peace and love.

If you walk down Oxford Street, you’ll see people lying in sleeping bags and it’s a situation that seems to be getting worse. I’ve been saying it time and time again: everyone deserves a castle. It doesn’t have to be the best castle in the world. It doesn’t even need to have a patio. But everyone deserves to have a place to call home. No one should be living on the street. A lot of homelessness comes down to mental health. My mum was a registered nurse and used to work with a lot of schizophrenic people. Why does the government not provide adequate budgets to help these people? A mentally ill person could inflict crazy damage to other people when it’s not their fault, and if they do it’s going to cost you more money to sort those incidents out after they’ve happened.

Role models are a good way to help young people with their problems. I had Pastor Chris and he was like my dad in a sense. He was the first guy to take me to Treasure Land and Alton Towers, the first man to really show me a lot of normal things.

People like myself who are in the public eye can highlight these situations too, and we need to do it! With great power comes great responsibility. I want to show people my successful side, but I want to show you my bipolar side too. Yeah, sometimes I just want to sit in my boxer shorts and cry. That’s being a human. None of us are R2-D2 and emotion is what separates us from machines.

Writing music about my problems helps me get it off my chest and gives me time to analyse things. That’s my true thoughts and feelings. Sometimes it’s easier to put it down on paper. You don’t have to be a musician. Maybe write a diary. But talk about it. Just say it. Get it out there, that’s the hardest thing. Talk to friends, family, even strangers. See a doctor. Try anything that’s available to you. And there’s a difference between asking for help and a handout. Asking for help is still trying to do it on your own, you just need a bit of a nudge in the right direction.

It’s OK to have up days. It’s OK to have down days. But especially remember it’s OK to talk to people and let them know you’re not OK. Don’t think it’s something you have to keep to yourself to fit in or to be normal. There’s no such thing as normal. 

Big Narstie’s album BDL Bipolar, which includes collaborations with Craig David and Ed Sheeran, is out on July 6 on Dice Recordings.