How music helped Singaporean musicians through mental health struggles
Jack Ho (left) and Rai Kannu (right) of the iconic rock band Jack & Rai recently performed at Beyond the Label Fest 2020 to raise awareness of mental health issues. (Photos: 3AM Music Collective)

How music helped Singaporean musicians through mental health struggles

When musician Rai Kannu of the popular Singapore band Jack & Rai feels down, he turns to music for comfort, by singing and playing songs. As a member of the 3AM Collective, which champions awareness and acceptance of mental health conditions in Singapore, he also advocates seeking professional help for these conditions.

The collective, co-founded by husband-and-wife duo Ben Kranen and Eileen Chai, gets its name from the wee hours of the morning when people are reportedly the loneliest and most vulnerable. The 28-member collective seeks to destigmatise mental health conditions, and it most recently performed at Beyond the Label Fest 2020. Beyond the Label is an initiative by the National Council of Social Service to promote mental wellness and rallies support for those with mental health conditions. 

We get Ben and Eileen, as well as Jack and Rai, to tell us how they work through their own mental health struggles. 

eileen chai performing with her violin music workshop
Ex-national athlete Eileen Chai, now a musician, used to suffer from social performance anxiety, until her husband, Ben Kranen, got her to see a psychiatrist for help. 

What does mental wellness mean to you? 

Ho: Mental wellness, to me, means, a balanced way of living. We get so easily caught up in this cycle of rushing and deadlines and gigs, and then family, so, sometimes, mental wellness means taking a deep breath and taking things one day at a time.

Chai: It means knowing how to rest our minds. Mental wellness should begin from childhood, when children are taught to experience and understand the importance of resting their minds in stressful situations. 

How has music helped you manage your mental health? 

Rai: Music has always been a source of emotional release. When I sing or play songs I relate to, I feel like I am confiding in a best friend. Writing songs also helps me pen down my emotions. Performing for a live audience (even if virtually) is also cathartic. The excitement, the banter and a good audience go a long way in helping me with my sense of self-worth.

Kranen: Music has always been there for me. It helps me to be in the moment and forget about everything else. Sometimes, when I feel sad, I am inclined to listen to a sad song that befits my mood. Other times, I would want to listen to a happy song to get the sadness out of the system. 

ben kraken performing live music workshop
Ben Kranen co-founded the 3AM Music Collective with his wife Elaine Chai, to raise public awareness of mental health conditions.

How do you take care of your mental health? 

Kranen: I was 16 when I lost my sister, then 18, to a rare form of cancer. To witness someone so close and so young suffering was unbearable; it left a deep mental scar on me. Yet I will never forget the lessons she taught me and my parents: Life is beautiful, including all its ugly moments, so let’s be thankful for every day that is given to us. The older I get, the more I have learnt to live this way.

Ho: I have realised that dedicating myself to my music or just doing one or two things a day and doing them well makes me feel less stressful. Taking things one step at a time helps me breathe. 

What advice would you offer those who are struggling with anxiety or mental health conditions?

Rai: Never be afraid to seek professional help, there is nothing wrong in doing so; forget the stigmas. If talking to friends or family helps, that is good. But in some cases, one does need to consult a professional. Aside from that, do things that excite you or enable you to have fun with the people you care about. It could be a new hobby, like playing music. Regular exercise can also help one cope with anxiety and mental health issues. 

Chai: It is okay to seek help. Finding the root cause of one’s health issue and learning to manage one’s thoughts and emotions are critical to one’s recovery.

Replies were edited and condensed for clarity. To learn more about 3AM Music Collective, visit their Facebook Page.

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