Profiles in Mental Health: Noah Kahan

Who is Noah Kahan  

Noah Kahan is a rising star in the music world, and an outlier in today’s pop music scene. Not only does his stripped-down intimate style of folk music differ from the heavily produced hits you hear on the radio, but the subject matter in them is real, raw, and meaningful. It’s not the kind of music or messaging you would expect from an artist that has sold out shows from Red Rocks to Redmond this summer.  

Kahan’s music often details his journey with mental health, and he is an advocate for mental health organizations. When he plays at Marymoor Park in Redmond on August 15, mental health will be in the spotlight and NAMI Eastside will have volunteers present at the show, raising awareness and connecting attendees with resources. If you’d like to sign up to volunteer with NAMI Eastside and learn about opportunities like this one, you can do so here.  

His journey with mental health 

Everyone is on their own journey when it comes to mental health, and many find different solutions to different problems. Kahan told Consequence Podcasts that “There are baseline needs that a person has, and for me, that’s being able to get out of bed, being able to be social and to experience socializing, and to feel like I can exist. And there have been a lot times in my life that without the kickstart medication gave me, I don’t think I’d be able to do that.” 

In addition to medication, Kahan knows the struggle of finding adequate and accessible therapy – especially in rural settings. Kahan was born in a town with a population just over 1,000, Strafford, Vermont, which meant finding a therapist you didn’t know personally meant travelling an hour or more for care. Going to therapy in his small town presented problems because his therapists knew him personally or knew his family, and had formed opinions of him prior tho their meeting. He told Alyssa Goldberg in an interview with Sound of Saving that “It never really felt like an experience where I had someone that was totally unbiased.” 

Kahan is thankful that his family was stigma-free for the most part. On the title track from his album Stick Season, he sings “I thought that if I piled something good on all my bad, that I could cancel out the darkness I inherited from dad.”    

His family has a history of depression, and his parents, and siblings all struggle with it. These shared experiences allowed him to speak about mental health “as casually as a dinnertime conversation or conversation in the car.” Though he was fortunate enough to have parents willing and able to send him to a therapist, what Kahan describes as “rural therapy” posed multiple hurdles in obtaining adequate care.  
Stick Season   

After trying to write pop songs for years, Kahan tried to stay true to himself for his most recent album, which became his most popular one. “Stick Season,” named after the period in rural Vermont when the trees are bare and nature seems to be in a state of hibernation, serves as a metaphor for the challenging and sometimes isolating seasons we experience in our lives. 
the album allowed him to explore themes of vulnerability, self-reflection, and resilience, all deeply personal and drawn from his experiences with anxiety and depression. By sharing his story, he hopes to inspire others to prioritize their well-being and seek support when facing challenges. As an advocate for mental health, Kahan recognizes the importance of destigmatizing conversations around mental well-being and providing support to those who may be struggling. Through his music, he aims to create a safe space for listeners to connect and find solace in their own experiences. Kahan’s lyrics often touch on themes of loneliness, self-doubt, and the search for meaning, resonating with fans who have faced similar emotional struggles. 

Walking the walk 

Seeing a need to break stigma and raise awareness, Kahan decided to do something about it. He started The Busyhead Project with the goal of raising “$1 million for mental health,” with Kahan set to donate a portion of every ticket sold during the “Stick Season” tour. They have already raised over $415,000. 

Sharing its name with Kahan’s 2019 debut album, Busyhead, The Busyhead Project will join forces with a handful of national and local organizations dedicated to increasing mental health awareness, amplify discussions, and democratize resources.