Editor’s note: This article deals with suicide. If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, call the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline for 24/7 free and confidential support. Or text the Crisis Text Line, which provides free, 24/7, confidential support through text messages to people in crisis when they dial 741741.
Megan Thee Stallion’s new single “Cobra” is shaking up the conversation on mental health, and more specifically, suicide — particularly among Black women.
In the song released on Nov. 3, the Houston rapper said, “I’m very depressed,” and mentioned self-harm. Her lyrical confessional about “breakin’ down” with the “whole world watchin’” hit the airwaves just three months after Canadian rapper Tory Lanez was sentenced to 10 years in prison for shooting her in the foot.
“Since I was viciously shot by the defendant, I have not experienced a single day of peace,” Megan said in a statement read by a prosecutor during Lanez’s sentencing. “Slowly but surely, I’m healing and coming back, but I will never be the same.”
Dr. Rheeda Walker, a licensed clinical psychologist and researcher at the University of Houston, said the song is “pretty powerful.” She first heard it on X, where she follows Megan.
“I think it was just something about the way that she said the words,” Walker says. “I’m not a musical person. At the same time, I know when someone is feeling what they’re saying because I felt it.”
In an in-depth interview about the song, Walker shared more about mental health stigma and suicide awareness.
WORD IN BLACK: Tell me more about what you felt when you heard the lyrics.
RHEEDA WALKER: I felt honestly sad because I don’t know — so, let me say this: I don’t know if the words and song were her full experience. We can’t know the difference between the artistry and the report of someone’s internal feelings, experience, or behavior. We can’t fully know with artists. At the same time, what she was saying is something that I know happens for a lot of people. That is, they are struggling, there’s lots of people around them. but either they don’t see the struggle, or they don’t know how to respond. And what it said to me was, she had the bravery, and maybe for some people the audacity, to actually say that out loud. Because on some level, if, in fact, this was her experience, then she’s speaking about the people who were around her.
WIB: “Cobra” has over 9 million views on YouTube alone since it was released two weeks ago. Do you have any concerns that people who watch or listen to the song may be triggered by the lyrics?
RW: It’s an important question because there is a phenomenon that we refer to as contagion theory. That there are people who may listen and feel like, oh, you know, Megan felt this way, and she’s a powerful person, and maybe this is something that they may consider for their own lives. Now, to be sure, and I say this all the time: You can’t put something in someone’s head that wasn’t there anyway.
I always say that because a lot of people are afraid to ask about suicide risk and suicide vulnerability because they think they’ll put it in someone’s head. And that’s not how it works. In fact, if someone is vulnerable, it’s important to ask because then they’ll know, “Oh wow, OK, great. This person is non-judgmental. They’re open to having a conversation.”
So, I guess it’s two sides of the same coin, maybe. On the one hand, it opens up conversations that people can start to dialogue about depression and anxiety and suicide risk. On the other hand, there may be people who feel more comfortable engaging in risky behavior because of their suicide vulnerability.
WIB: Do you feel the music industry has any responsibility for warning listeners of songs that may be triggering? For example, should they add disclaimers for graphic music or run advertisements for 988?
RW: Oh, absolutely. I think that it’s really important to pair being honest with providing resources for individuals.
WIB: In “Cobra,” Megan said, “Every night I cried, I almost died/And nobody close tried to stop it/Long as everybody gettin’ paid, right? Everything’ll be okay, right?” What are your thoughts on her addressing the people around her, if the song is based on her personal experience?
RW: Oftentimes, people ask me about suicide risk, or what are the signs, and what do we look for? And that’s one conversation. But, the other conversation really is, who are we as people, in our comfort level, in talking about suicide, being able to provide non-judgmental support, and being good listeners, and being consistent?
Because, unfortunately, we can say, “Oh, yes, I know all the signs,” but if we’re not comfortable asking in a warm, empathic way, if someone is thinking about killing themselves, then we’re not going to get the response from them that is the authentic response.
So, on the one hand, yes, those folks need to check on her. On the other hand, those folks need to check on themselves first to see if they want the information and do they have the capacity to support her in the way that she needs to be supported or to get her to where she needs to be.
WIB: Do you find it common for artists to express their mental illnesses or challenges through their music or whatever their art form is?
RW: I can say some of my favorite artists have definitely talked about mental health — Mary J. Blige, Tupac. You know, a lot of folks have talked about their emotional struggles in their music. I don’t think that’s unusual or uncommon at all. I think it’s pretty common. At the same time, there are probably a lot of folks who haven’t been as explicit in their music, but maybe they talk about other kinds of struggles, and maybe what’s beneath it is overwhelming hurt and pain.
WIB: What about non-artists and everyday people? How would you advise them to express their emotions?
RW: For other people, whether they’re writing about it or not, I encourage folks always to write, especially if there isn’t a support system, and I always say a non-judgmental support system. Writing gets us away from the ruminating. So, for people who are thinking over and over again, “Why is this happening to me? Why don’t I have anyone to support me?” They’re asking these questions, and they’re not getting the answers. We know that rumination is associated with depression and anxiety. So, it doesn’t help. It oftentimes makes things worse. But, what I encourage folks to do is to write, because writing at least gives you some temporary relief from that rumination. And for a lot of people, they actually find that writing gets them to a place of better clarity.