Benga has discussed his mental health struggles and drug abuse in a new interview.
The UK DJ and producer, who retired last year after experiencing a breakdown and subsequently being sectioned, recently revealed that he was bipolar, “brought on by drugs”, and had schizophrenia, which he blamed on “excessive touring”.
“Part of me opening up and talking with people about mental health is a way of moving forward,” he told the Guardian. “This industry is all about perception: a lot of people wouldn’t want anybody to think they’re weak, or that they can’t do what they do, or that they’re not cool,” said Benga. “Nobody wants to come clean, let alone an artist.”
Warning of club culture’s focus on “outdoing your mates and going on unnecessary benders”, he said his illness was linked to his substance use. “I’d been taking [drugs] since I was 17 years old, but it really started to affect me when I was about 22, 23. The majority was ecstasy but I also discovered ketamine when I was 25. I started to get anxiety and paranoia, but it’s always been in my nature to carry on and think that everything is going to go away.”
After being arrested in March 2014, he realised he needed help. “I don’t want to scare people but it was an extreme situation and I’d become aggressive,” he said. “I was seen by a doctor and he decided that I should stay in the intensive unit. It took a while for reality to settle in but the more I spoke about my breakdown, the more I realised that it was common.”
While he believes he’ll have to battle the illness for the rest of his life, he added that working on music has helped him to control his thoughts. “I listened to a record I made with Artwork called ‘Shut It Down’, which is very futuristic and funk-sounding, and my illness became inextricably linked to it. I knew that I had to create this thing I called future funk – that was the only thing I could hold on to.
“Maybe it’s crazy music and everyone will go: ‘Yeah, he was ill when he made this,’ [laughs] or maybe people will be into it. But if I hadn’t have had that, I could see myself drowning.”
He also expressed his hope that speaking out will help break the stigma around mental health problems and encourage people to recognise the symptoms more quickly in others. “I would plead with anybody who sees anything wrong with their mates, their family members, to act on it straight away. That way you can limit the damage that’s done.”
Read Benga’s full interview over at the Guardian and check out Mind and Sane for emotional support and information on mental health issues. And let’s not forget that Benga’s a dubstep hero – here’s the 15 key moments from his game-changing career.