Everything I know about psychiatry, I learnt from heavy metal

If mental illness doesn’t exist, how come the dark forces of heavy metal know so much about it? Almost the whole range of psychopathology can be found on the cover of heavy metal albums.

You may never need buy a psychiatry textbook again.

Are you listening Thomaz Szasz?

Are you?


Mood disorders

While the DSM defines major depressive disorder as a low mood or a loss of ability to experience pleasure for at least two weeks which interferes with normal occupational function, Forgotten Tomb’s album Springtime Depression depicts the feeling in a more metaphorical way, like the feeling of being stuck in a spooky house in the middle of a forest.



The classic album Wizard of the Lost Kingdom by metal outfit Mania shames the extensive psychiatric literature by reminding us of the largely undiscussed role of winking dwarves in the elevated mood, racing thoughts and boundless energy that accompanies a manic episode.



Anxiety disorders

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a problem where people have birds nesting in their eyes, their skin goes green and their teeth disappear. No wait, that’s something else. But if these thoughts kept intruding into the mind and the person found them objectionable and anxiety provoking, those could be obsessions, and if they felt they had to repetitively perform a certain action to help control the anxiety (like stroking your green cheeks with both hands, for example), there’s your compulsion.


A phobia is quite clearly an explosion of colourful organic wiring and the textbooks have got it wrong. Metal 1 Psychiatry 0.






Trauma can often lead to anxiety difficulties that would now be likely diagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder. However, the band Trauma are obviously paying tribute to earlier systems of descriptive psychopathology where the emotional effect of life-threatening situation might be diagnosed as a trauma neurosis. We’re gonna party like it’s 1899.



Brazilian metallers Sepultura have clearly got the right idea, as all forms of schizophrenia are known to involve a pair of purple eyes floating in the sky. However, not everyone diagnosed with schizophrenia has a bandanna, red skin and a fetching floor length raincoat, so be careful not to over generalise from their diagnostic criteria.


Addictive disorders

You’re swinging upside down by your feet and some passing psychiatrist has quickly sketched you onto a nearby block of concrete. In the process, he notices that you have blood coming from your legs and guessing that you may be injecting drugs into the reticular vein, perhaps because persistent needle use has made it impossible to inject into veins in the arm. Or, perhaps you are really addicted to swinging upside down by your feet, but then again, those behavioural addictions are so controversial.

Eating disorders

Anorexia Nervosa. What a name for a metal band. It’s not entirely clear from their music whether they represent the Restrictive Eating subtype or the Binge-Purge subtype, but as one of the criteria for the diagnosis is low body weight, I suspect from their band photos (warning – MySpace link) they may have been misdiagnosed. They do look kinda pale though. However, it’s clear they’ve been adversely influence by Size 0 models, so we can safely blame the media.

Somatoform and dissociative disorders

Although more classically defined as the presentation of neurological symptoms without evidence of neurological impairment in the absence of the intent to deceive or conscious control of the deficit, hysteria can also present as a big blue dragon smoking a pipe. Of course, Freudians would argue that all hysteria originally comes from sexual dysfunction so we wonder whether the pipe is really just a pipe?

3 thoughts on “Everything I know about psychiatry, I learnt from heavy metal”

  1. What, no “Metal Health” reference.
    On a more serious note, check out some Tool lyrics if you haven’t already. 46&2 is a good starting point for some Jungian metaphysics.

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