Singer-Songwriter Ren’s Raw Depictions of Mental Health Strike a Chord

by Katie Brown
June 20, 2023 at 9:15 AM UTC

Ren, an English singer-songwriter, uses his music to shed light on mental health issues and his personal experiences within the medical system.

Clinical relevance: A popular singer songwriter offers a patient’s perspective on mental health care

  • Welsh musician, Ren uses his music to express his personal mental health journey.
  • His song Hi Ren criticizes the medical system based on his experiences but also offers hope to others.
  • The song has elicited substantial responses, sparking a public discussion on mental health.

A millennial musician is giving a voice to those living with depression, anxiety, and chronic illness. Welsh singer-songwriter Ren Erin Gill, known professionally as Ren, has found an audience by interpreting the highs and lows of his own health journey. 

The 33-year-old’s work toes the line between rap and slam poetry. While strumming an acoustic guitar in his viral hit, Hi Ren, he rips open his heart to listeners. The track has racked up over 15 million views and counting on YouTube and nearly six million on Spotify.

Hi Ren details Ren’s traumatic experience in a medical system that, at times, appears to have failed him. His Lyme disease went undetected for years. Instead, he was misdiagnosed with various mental health disorders, including bipolar depression. 

“I wanted to write something which captured the frustration of this journey. I wanted to write something which expressed all the things I wish I’d said to my doctors and therapists at the time, but didn’t have the words,” Ren wrote in a Facebook post. 

The singer did not respond to Psychiatrist.com’s requests for comment. 

Mental Health Evolution

The video’s setting is a bleak, terrifying mental health asylum. Ren wears johnnys, a garment no longer used in mental health institutions. The long, loose, and open gown allowed medical staff easy access to a patient’s body.

The first part of Hi Ren is a demonic portrayal of his illness. At first, the artist depicts his mental illness as an evil, devilish part of himself that he had to fight against. 

You think that those doctors are really there to guide you? 

Been through this a million times 

Your civilian mind is so perfect at always being lied to

Okay, take another pill boy 

Drown yourself in the sound of white noise

By the end of the video, Ren seems to change his own perceptions. He begins to understand that his sickness is not the enemy. 

Inspiring Vulnerability

“I think the message is of hope and trying to depathologize what’s happening in terms of psychiatry, and that it’s okay to go get care,” said psychiatrist Joe Shrand, MD, Chief Medical Officer of Riverside Community Care in Dedham, MA. “For people living with their own mental health struggles, Ren’s powerful lyrics could inspire them to get the care they need.” 

Ren’s relationship with the medical system has clearly been traumatic, Shrand admitted. His own unfortunate experiences may well justify his distrust in doctors.

Ren summed up his intentions for the song on Facebook. “When you put in monumental levels of effort doing self work, stress reduction techniques, CBT, self affirmations, following strict medication regimes with pills with a long list of side effects, and end up worse it’s a really defeating and confusing place to be because it contradicts everything we’ve been taught. It shakes your trust in the medical system.”

While Ren likely received subpar treatment for years, Shrand said perpetuating suspicion about the entire medical system could send the wrong message to malleable minds. 

“I do think he has felt that the world has seen him as broken, and that has contributed to his worst nightmare,” said Shrand. “What I hope is that he’s not also giving a message that we discard all that we’ve learned in psychiatry and mental health and behavioral work,” Shrand said.

Reactions Go Viral

Ren has inspired legions of fans to share their own stories. Some—including some notable musicians and medical professionals — have shared reaction videos to Hi Ren. Many of these videos, which show people listening to the song for the first time and giving their impressions, have hundreds of thousands of views themselves. 

Fans quickly jump to Ren’s defense when they feel he’s been misinterpreted. When CNN included clips of the Hi Ren video in a recent package about the dangers of TikTok to imply that it promotes suicidal ideation, fans erupted in protest. They started a petition asking the news organization to remove the reference. 

Ren also pushed back. In a video, he said, “It’s a song about accepting your own critical thoughts so that you can live a more peaceful and happy life.” CNN eventually relented, editing their piece to add more context.

Shrand agreed that the song ultimately sends a message of hope and positivity.

“People are stunned, and they’re crying, and they are empathic and emotional and connecting,” Shrand said of the reaction videos. “And that’s a good thing—that’s what we really want. We want people to feel compassion and care for others who struggle, instead of just dismissing them as broken.”

“It takes a lot of courage to be vulnerable,” Shrand added. “And for other people to be able to watch his work and respond in the moment, that just gives permission to other people to do the same thing.”

Ren has continued to explore mental health themes with his music. His latest single, Suic*de, tells the story of a friend he lost to suicide. 

Additional reporting by Liz Neporent

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