Big Narstie: “Society makes you think that if you’re sad or crying, you’re weak”

"Only robots don't show emotions" – the grime rapper marks Mental Health Awareness Week by encouraging us to communicate

Big Narstie (Getty)

Big Narstie is known by most people as the resident joker – the larger than life character who hosts a Channel 4 entertainment series and releases grime albums – but a side that many of us don’t see is his experience of mental health issues and his role as a mental health spokesman.

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Over the past few years, as well as fronting The Big Narstie Show and appearing on countless panel shows, the 33-year-old has brought out the album BDL Bipolar, on which he raps about being a “grown man crying” who is “scared I can’t get into heaven because my heart is heavy”.

He’s also toured British universities with the mental health charity Mind, and used to have a YouTube series called Uncle Pain on which he offered advice to troubled youngsters. And in a 2018 article for The Big Issue, he wrote: “I want to show people my successful side, but I want to show you my bipolar side too. Yeah, sometimes I just want to sit in my boxer shorts and cry. That’s being a human.”

Speaking to RadioTimes.com to mark Mental Health Awareness Week, Big Narstie says he first realised he had bipolar when he was in his early teens. “In my young teenage years I would go through crazy arrays of emotions,” he says.

“I’d cry when I was happy and smile when I was vexed. It’s mad. I’d be happy, so happy, and then so down in moments. Then I’d be alright until I’d be sad again, and then I’d be happy.

“It’s just a constant emotional rollercoaster. ‘Why are you crying? Why don’t you want to get out of bed?’ ‘I don’t know.’ ‘What’s wrong?’ ‘Nothing.’”

Big Narstie performing with Craig David (Getty)
Big Narstie performing with Craig David (Getty)

Big Narstie explains that he has never gone to a doctor about his mental health as he wanted to avoid being put on medication, but he has made it clear in the past that he believes there should be far more government provision made for mental health care, and that if you suffer with mental health issues, talking to someone – be they friends, family or a doctor – is essential.

“Talk about it. Just say it. Get it out there, that’s the hardest thing,” he wrote in The Big Issue. “Talk to friends, family, even strangers. See a doctor. Try anything that’s available to you. And there’s a difference between asking for help and a handout. Asking for help is still trying to do it on your own, you just need a bit of a nudge in the right direction.

Talking about his own self-diagnosis, he says “Obviously, at the beginning I didn’t know what bipolar meant. I couldn’t explain why I did some of the things I did…

“I just read up on all the symptoms and I fit it… I don’t need a doctor to confirm for me something I already know.”

According to the NHS website, bipolar disorder is characterised by “extreme mood swings” ranging from intense highs, otherwise known as mania, to deep lows, or depression.

“One day I can just wake up and I hate everyone – don’t talk to me, f*** off, and it’s f***ing real shit,” says Big Narstie. “Then I wake up the next day and I want to make the whole world breakfast and do a Cha-cha-cha down the high road.”

Loved by his fans for his honest and unfiltered approach, Big Narstie explains that he sees his bipolar as an advantage because, since he stopped trying to “be normal and fit in” and instead “embraced” the disorder, he has managed to better “connect” with people.

“My crazy outbursts and my weird emotional frenzies seem to work in my favour,” he says. “It works in man’s favour if you’re willing to embrace it… Whereas before I was suppressed by [my] natural [need] to fit into society, so to speak. Now man’s like, ‘F*** that.’

“There was a long period of my life when I was trying to be normal and fit in, I was scared to randomly scream and say the crazy stuff that was in my head at the time. So, in a sense, that stunted my beauty because I wasn’t being open to the world about what I am. Since I showed the world my greatness and my flaws at the same time, the world receives me in a different way.”

If he could choose to live without bipolar disorder, would he? “No,” Big Narstie replies, without hesitation.

Scooter Braun, Justin Bieber, Ed Sheeran and Big Narstie (Getty)
Scooter Braun, Justin Bieber, Ed Sheeran and Big Narstie (Getty)

He is also clear that “with great power comes great responsibility” – that his position in the public eye carries with it a duty to speak out about mental health issues.

“I was raised a certain way,” he says. “I come from a real Christian and Rasta background. That’s all about revolutionary stuff, stand up for the weak, mentally know yourself… this was all instilled in me by my grandma, my grandfather, my mum, my uncles.

“But then you’ve got other famous people who were never instilled with any self-righteous morals, but who have the attention of millions of people.”

Nevertheless, he believes that awareness around mental health has come a long way in the past 20 years. “Especially in black Caribbean families,” he says, “if you had a family member who was ‘crazy’, they were shunned. They were not talked about or kept as a dirty secret because the family would be embarrassed, that’s cultural. A lot has moved on because people have support systems.”

His advice to people who might be going through a similar experience to him reiterates the need for sharing: “Don’t forget to tell people how you’re feeling.

“The reason I get a lot off my chest is because I let everyone know how I feel. Nothing’s bottled up… so that people know when to give you space and when to check on you, you’ve got to communicate.

“Having a bad day doesn’t make you a bad person. Society makes you think that if you’re sad or crying that you’re weak. F*** that, you’re not, only robots don’t show any emotions.

“Appreciate all of your senses – cry when you need to cry, laugh when you need to laugh, think when you need to think.”

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Mental Health Awareness Week runs from 13th-19th May 2019. Visit the Mental Health Foundation website for information on mental health charities and how to get help if you need it