In Honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, Jacoby Shaddix Talks about the Inspiration Behind Papa Roach's Hit Song "HELP" with Psychology Today

by Michael Friedman Ph.D. (originally published on Psychology Today)

“I think I need help;
I’m drowning in myself;”

From “Help” by Papa Roach

Jacoby Shaddix understands isolation.

In describing his struggle with depression, The Papa Roach frontman talks about feeling paralyzed and removed from the world. “It’s the bed-ridden vibe. Everything feels overwhelming. Simple tasks become super overwhelming to me,” Shaddix says. “Just getting out of bed is a feat. I just isolate. I become really withdrawn. It’s like a tape loop in my mind that I know I can change my attitude. But I can’t."

“And I’m like, What the f*ck’s wrong with me?”

His isolation is part of a vicious cycle in which Shaddix’s depression causes him to isolate, which prevents him from doing something he truly enjoys—connecting with others—thus worsening his depression. “When I’m going through it, I can’t even connect. And that’s where I thrive—when I’m with people. I bring a lot of positive energy to a lot of spaces. But when I’m going through it, I can’t even say hi,” he said.

“Man, sh*t gets so f*cking dark.” 

Research suggests that lack of connection with others, and the resulting loneliness can often perpetuate addictive behaviors. Shaddix found that over time, he turned to alcohol, as well as Vicodin and Valium to cope.  

“Alcohol was my main substance. I would just drown myself in it. Like a vampire getting a taste of blood, you just can’t get enough. Alcohol ruled my life. It owned me,” Shaddix says. “Life just keeps happening. And dealing with life without the crutch of being able to take the edge off with a highball, drinking a cocktail at the end of the day.

“Sh*t gets loud.”

Often, people who struggle with depression avoid reaching out because of the stigma of mental illness.  And they also face criticism and social distancing, by which others disconnect from them. 

Alcoholism is considered a disease, but the perception of it is: He’s a f*cking deadbeat,” Shaddix says. “Nobody gets mad at someone when they have cancer, but when you’re an alcoholic they hate you.”

More, Shaddix found that seeking help was further complicated by his negative view of psychiatric medication and the pharmaceutical industry. He described how experiences with his brother and friend particularly influenced his perceptions.

“I’m hesitant to get medicated because I have trust issues with the American medical groups and some of the doctors. My brother was diagnosed ADHD...and I witnessed my parents trying to work with the doctors and get the right medication. There were medications that were just not working for him. There was a doctor who admitted to my mom that his company would be paid more to medicate with this certain drug,” Shaddix says. “I have a friend who was administered six times the adult amount of Thorazine as a twelve year old. And he went in the hospital with a little bit of a mental health issue, but came out with schizophrenia.

“That sh*t is f*cking scary.”

So when Shaddix approaches making music with Papa Roach, he knows that there are others out there who are also isolated and for whom music can be the only thing that keeps them connected to the world. And so he tries as best as he can to open up and share his story in his music.

“The raw humanity, the vulnerability – we put it into the music. They identify with it… whatever they’re walking through, whatever their struggle, there’s a connection,” he explained. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was some people marching through some heavy dark sh*t.

“Sometimes you just want to know that someone’s marching right next to you.”

And when Papa Roach was making their new record, Crooked Teeth, Shaddix was reminded that not only is their music helpful for others, but for him as well when he is in a dark and isolated place. He described the process of writing lyrics for the song “Help.”

“I was at the end of the process of making the record, and I was at my wit’s end. Being away from home for quite some time. I’ve got my struggles and I’ve got my battles and I’ve got my demons and I’ve got my emotional highs and lows. And I was really in a dark place at the time,” Shaddix recalled. “And I’d really isolated myself from my band – everyone had been away for awhile … the band was writing this major key song. And I’m like, F*ck man I don’t feel happy, joyous and free right now. I was very negative.

“I just feel like, F*ck this.”

But rather than trying to force Shaddix to change his mood, his bandmates accepted where he was and encouraged him to connect with them by sharing his experience.

“They embraced my crazy. And Tobin (Esperance) our bass player and Jerry (Horton) our guitar player were like, ‘That’s exactly what we f*cking want dude. Remember when we wrote that song ‘Scars’ and it was in a major key, but you were singing about your darkness, your brokenness,’” Shaddix explained. ““We want that juxtaposition of this sonic piece of music that’s very motivating and uplifting and energized, with your darkness. That’s what we want on the track. We don’t want you to come in and fake how you feel.’”

And Shaddix took it from there. “I went in there and the producer asked, ‘What’s wrong?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know. I need help – to talk to somebody, maybe a therapist again, a counselor again,” Shaddix said. “‘I just feel like I’m drowning in myself.’”

“And he’s like, ‘Bro you just wrote the chorus right there.’”

Michael A. Friedman, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist with offices in Manhattan and South Orange, NJ, and is a member of EHE International’s Medical Advisory Board. Contact Dr. Mike at Follow Dr. Mike on Twitter @drmikefriedman.