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Home / News / “Lives depend on talking about mental illness”

“Lives depend on talking about mental illness”


For Mental Health Awareness Week, Yonaka‘s Theresa Jarvis has spoken to NME about her own battles with anxiety – and the help that is available.

Released in 2019, their debut album ‘Don’t Want ‘Til Tomorrow’ was “completely consumed by mental health,” vocalist Theresa Jarvis tells NME, of how she “felt so anxious at the time, I couldn’t talk about anything else”.

Speaking of the balance between exposing her troubles for the first time and resonating with an audience, she said: “A lot of the time you’re going through stuff on your own so when you start talking about it, and other people tell you they’re feeling something similar, that’s so helpful.

“It gives you the confidence that you can keep fighting this whole thing. Music is a healer, isn’t it? I hope to keep helping people.”

Yonaka (Picture: Jade Jackman / Press)

After the pandemic led to a year of no shows but plenty of writing, Yonaka returned with ‘Seize The Power’ in January. An urgent mishmash of soaring cinematic soounds and grimy electro-rock, it starts with Jarvis declaring “woke up this morning, I feel so fucking important,” laying the ground for much of the new material’s messaging.

“You start life feeling like anything’s possible, but you keep getting beat down,” she told NME of the song’s meaning. “You become too scared to believe in yourself or do what you want to do without feeling judged but I feel like there’s this power within everyone,” she continued of her hopes to make people feel empowered.

Likewise, the furious guitar-driven ‘Ordinary’ is an encouraging pep-talk through hard times. “You think you’re not good enough, so you run back to things that don’t serve you,” she said. “You settle for shit, basically and I don’t want anyone to settle for less than they deserve.”

  • READ MORE: ‘Am I depressed?‘ – Help and advice on mental health and what to do next

These songs form part of a larger body of work that’s coming later this year. Details are still being kept under wraps, but Jarvis let slip that the release isn’t an album and contains “the strongest songs we’ve ever written” and while “doing things that maybe I wouldn’t have felt so confident in doing before”. They wrote between 50 and 100 songs over lockdown and the very best will be featured.

Encouraged by the outpouring of understanding following their debut, Jarvis now wants to “go further” into explaining how she really feels. “If other people are going through it and they’re still fighting, then it makes you believe that you can do it as well,” she said. “You can’t let anything stop you, especially your own head. The worst person to stand in your way is yourself.”

Jarvis has suffered from anxiety for the past four years after a panic attack in a supermarket. She has good days, bad days and really bad days, with the knock-on effects including blurred vision, dissociation, obsessing over the past, and feeling like she’s going to fall down and die. She tried medication but had to stop because of the severe panic attacks it caused. “It sounds extreme but it is,” she told us, revealing that therapy, breathing exercises, getting her heart rate up and flicking her wrist with a hairband all help.

“I don’t want to be the victim anymore,” she continued. “I want to own it. I want to be in control. And if I can’t, then I’m at least going to write down that I am.”

This is where new single ‘Call Me A Saint’ comes from. The most direct Yonaka have ever been, the song “is about bigging yourself up for all the stuff you’re going through”.

“Whenever I feel depressed or anxious, I end up beating myself up for feeling like that –  which just makes it worse,” she admitted. “All my old tracks are about being the victim and I got tired of it because actually, I’m a fucking saint for putting up with this shit.”

Jarvis said that she now believes that if you’ve never suffered from anxiety, you “just don’t get it because you really can’t understand that feeling that goes through you.” Still, she said that she knows how important it is to surround yourself with people who want to help: “I feel awful for anyone who has to deal with it on their own.”

Yonaka Reading
Yonaka backstage at Reading. Credit: Jenn Five for NME

It’s why things like Mental Health Awareness Week are so important. “Lives depend on talking about mental illness,” she said. “There are a lot of people just putting on a brave face. Some people really struggle to feel heard or still believe they’re alone in what they’re going through, which is really damaging and scary.”

Jarvis knows the importance of feeling understood. Shortly after that first panic attack, she read Matt Haig’s mental health book How To Stay Alive, saw herself in his struggles and felt less alone. Now, she wants to offer that same feeling to others.

“The stuff I talk about isn’t uncommon,” she added. “Sometimes we feel so different and so alone but we are all dealing with similar things. I just want our music to make everyone feel strong and like they’re worth something because that’s all I want to feel.”

News of Yonaka’s second album is expected in the months ahead.

Meanwhile, Yonaka recently announced that they will be returning to play Reading & Leeds Festival this August year.

For help and advice on mental health:

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