Joy Division’s Stephen Morris on mental health discussion since Ian Curtis’ death: “It’s something you can talk about now”

"People understand it"

Joy Division and New Order drummer Stephen Morris has discussed the progress in the conversation around mental health in the decades following the death of Ian Curtis.

Curtis took his own life in 1980, after battling depression and epilepsy in his final years. Now, in a new interview with NME, Morris has spoken of how the stigma has lessened in comparison to what Curtis faced in the ’70s.

“Attitudes towards mental health have definitely got better over time in the sense that it’s something you can talk about now and people understand it,” Morris told NME. “But at that time people didn’t understand epilepsy, they thought it was something you could catch and there was a bit of stigma about it so you didn’t really know what to do. Ian would get depressed and you’d be like, ‘Pull yourself together, you’ll be alright’, and you just didn’t want to admit that there was possibly something wrong.”

He continued: “Now it’s a lot better but young people are under a lot more pressure than we were and there’s a lot more going on that can push you into a bad space. Even now admitting to yourself something is wrong is hard because you don’t want to admit it. And you’ve gotta do it because other people have got through it.

“It’s not gonna kill you to ask for help. The treatment is also a lot more friendly now. The drugs that Ian had to take were evil things. Sometimes they were worse than his symptoms because they did have a real effect on him.”

Ian Curtis

Ian Curtis, Bernard Sumner, Stephen Morris, Peter Hook in Joy Division

This comes after New Order frontman Bernard Sumner spoke out last year against the “disgusting” lack of support for many young people suffering with mental health issues.

“I’m not just talking about epilepsy but mental health issues for young people especially school kids it’s criminally underfunded,” said Sumner. “When the coalition government former, after the banking crisis in 2008, they underfunded the NHS and they completely underfunded help for young people with mental issues.”

Sumner continued: “And it’s still the same way and it’s young kids at school that really, really need help and they’ve just been abandoned. And that’s going to create a time bomb for this government and this country – attention needs to be brought to it. It’s disgusting.”

Former bandmate Peter Hook also spoke to NME about about the pressures that Curtis faced, and encouraged others to seek help.

“The treatment has changed and society has changed,” Hook went on. “I do feel that people are more empathetic and open to education in those things,” Hook told NME. “Myself and The Light have worked with two charities since 2010 – The Epilepsy Foundation and CALM. Suicide is the biggest killer of men under the age of 40.

“We’re looking at mental health in a positive way now so that people don’t have to go through what he went through. A bunch of idiots like us can even be educated. We were unaware of what Ian was going through. That, as an old bloke, is the most shocking aspect of it – how unprepared and uneducated we as his friends were. Any education and any communication about things like this towards avoiding what happened to Ian is the most important thing.”

Hook added: “The hardest thing in the world is knowing what people are going through. I’m an alcoholic and a drug addict, and coming to terms with something like that helps you understand it more. It’s very difficult for some people to understand what Ian went through without going through it themselves, but the idea of encouraging people to talk as soon as possible and not be embarrassed or ashamed is the most important message to get through to anyone: seek help.”

Morris’ new book, Record Play Pause: Confessions Of A Post-Punk Percussionist – Volume 1 is out on May 16.

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