This week, marking 42 years since Joy Division's iconic singer, Ian Curtis, took his own life on May 18, 1980, two of the band's surviving members addressed the topics of mental health and suicide prevention with the British Parliament.
Listen to the music of Ian Curtis -- featuring tracks from Joy Division, New Order, and more on Audacy's New Wave Mix Tape
Guitarist and singer Bernard Sumner, and drummer Stephen Morris -- who went on to form New Order following Curtis' passing -- spoke of the critical importance of addressing the stigmas surrounding mental health, being aware of warning signs, and the need to provide more access to those seeking help. Opening the discussion that was initially scheduled to be held in 2020, on the 40th anniversary of Curtis' death -- postponed as most events due to COVID -- Sumner spoke about the difficulty he and his bandmates faced in separating Curtis' well-known battle with epilepsy and an unknown depression.
“Originally, we didn’t think he had a mental health problem – we thought he had a problem with epilepsy,” said Sumner. As evidenced in numerous Joy Division documentaries, Curtis could be a “regular” and “happy-go-lucky guy,” Sumner adds. Although “his lyrics were a bit on the dark side, to put it mildly, but when Ian was with us on a day-to-day basis and in rehearsals, he was a good laugh."
"You look at a lot of photos of Ian at the time, and a lot of them are of him with his head in his hands. Those photos were taken in the two weeks before he died. Most of the rest of the time, he was fine," Sumner told the panel, titled Suicide Prevention: Breaking The Silence. “The problem with Ian and with young men with depression is that you’re gradually boxing yourself in and you don’t know who you can talk to," adds Morris. “You hear tales of the 18-month waiting list,” Sumner commented on the country's National Health Service. “You can’t go on a waiting list if you’re thinking of killing yourself. That’s ludicrous... You need help straight away."
Sumner also spoke about inadequate support systems, beginning with friends and family, who are often unaware of the pre-indications displayed by someone struggling. “They need support as well. Very often, if someone has psychological problems, then medical professionals won’t speak to the family. I kind of think that’s wrong," he says, "because the family can’t take care of that person unless they know what the problem is.”
In the end, Sumner says he did make attempts to get through to Curtis, who seemed to have already made his decision, explaining that Ian stayed with him for two weeks before he died. “I tried every night to talk him out of it,” Sumner said, “but he was on a mission. It was going to happen. I don’t know what more we could have done.”
Throughout the month of May, Mental Health Awareness Month, Audacy will highlight some of our past heart-to-heart talks, in an effort to help raise awareness and reduce the stigma surrounding struggles with mental health and addiction.
I’m Listening aims to encourage those who are dealing with mental health issues to understand they are not alone. If you or anyone you know is struggling with depression or anxiety, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741-741. You can also find more resources here.
For more mental health content, special edition artist interviews, resources, and more head to Imlistening.org. 365 days a year, I’m Listening is here to provide us all with moments of kindness, community, and support.