Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is becoming more widely understood. It was once mostly associated with soldiers who had seen combat. These days, we know more about the disorder. It is estimated that up to 8 percent of people will experience PTSD at some point, often after experiencing violence or abuse.
These 17 songs offer insight into the matter.
1. PTSD — G Herbo feat. juice WRLD, Chance the rapper & lil uzi vert
Rapper G Herbo released PTSD in 2020 in collaboration with Juice WRLD, Chance The Rapper, and Lil Uzi Vert. G Herbo’s diagnosis inspired the song PTSD after he began attending therapy and his subsequent realization that inner city life involved more trauma than he had consciously realized.
The four rappers each share their experiences with trauma and PTSD from witnessing violence and death. The song is remarkable for its handling of mental health in underprivileged communities.
2. Praying — Kesha
Kesha was largely absent from the music scene throughout the mid-2010s until she released Praying in 2017. The previous years had featured an upheaval in her life, including spending time in rehab to treat bulimia and a lawsuit against producer Dr. Luke for sexual assault.
Praying is a song about finding healing after struggling with suicidal ideation and depression. Some fans have suggested that the song is about her sexual abuse allegations, though Kesha has never confirmed this theory, and the song does not mention Dr. Luke.
3. Recovery — James Arthur
Men are often overlooked in mental health, a subject that British singer James Arthur tackles in his 2013 track Recovery. The song describes his struggles with addiction and depression and claims his victory in the fight against these.
Arthur compares his trauma to a war or an ocean crashing down upon him but declares that he will keep fighting every way he can. For him, that means continuing to do things he loves, such as writing songs.
4. Zombie — The Cranberries
Trauma can be passed down from generation to generation, a concept that is explored in Zombie by the Irish band The Cranberries. The song describes the time of The Troubles in Northern Ireland, which resulted in the deaths of roughly 3,500 people over 30 years. Multiple generations were traumatized by the atmosphere of violence, anger, and death. Though the band has never explained the meaning behind the song’s title, it is thought to refer to the mental “deadness” that results from constant exposure to trauma.
5. Til It Happens To You — Lady Gaga
Lady Gaga has always been a strong and confident pop star, but her 2015 song ‘Til It Happens To You explores a more vulnerable side to the singer. The song describes the feelings experienced after sexual assault, including anger, resentment, sorrow, despair, and isolation.
In particular, the line “til it happens to you” is a pushback at people who dismiss the trauma by saying it will get easier; the singer describes how lonely she felt by saying no one who hadn’t experienced sexual trauma could possibly know if it would get better.
6. 1-800-273-8255 — Logic feat. Alessia Cara & Khalid
In 2017, rapper Logic teamed up with Alessia Cara and Khalid to write a song about suicide awareness. The rapper said that he was moved to write the song after meeting fans who said that his music had changed their lives; he realized that his public platform gave him a chance to do something good for people who were suffering.
PTSD is strongly linked to suicidal ideation. Logic’s song helps spread knowledge about the people who are there to help those considering suicide.
7. Numb — Linkin Park
Linkin Park often explored dark themes in their music, but their 2003 song Numb is one of their most poignant and enduring tracks. The song describes a person who feels depressed and catatonic, feeling as though they can never measure up to the expectations of their loved ones.
Emotional numbness is a common side effect of mental health disorders such as PTSD, particularly as people subconsciously disassociate from their surroundings in an attempt to find relief.
8. Silence — Marshmello feat. Khalid
Marshmello’s 2017 collaboration with Khalid is a song about childhood trauma. It was inspired by Khalid’s experiences of feeling isolated during his childhood, as his father passed away when he was young, and his mother was in the military.
Consequently, they moved around frequently, leaving the young Khalid feeling like he had little support from friends and family. Isolation and other trauma in childhood can be significant factors in developing PTSD as an adult.
9. A Little Bit Stronger — Sara Evans
Country musician Sara Evans released A Little Bit Stronger in 2010. The song describes the period of grief and anxiety after a breakup and how the singer copes. The end of a relationship—especially a dysfunctional or toxic one—can play a significant role in developing PTSD, even though it’s a human experience that almost everyone goes through. The song has become an anthem of resilience, as the singer realizes that she is healing daily.
10. Hallelujah (I’m Not Dead) — Citizen Soldier
Citizen Soldier’s 2021 anthem can be interpreted in many different ways. The song describes someone who has faced death many times. It could be interpreted as someone who grew up in a violent environment or someone who has dealt with a chronic illness, which meant that their future was never certain. Though it is clear that they have endured anxiety, fear, and both emotional and physical pain, the singer celebrates by pointing out that they have endured everything and are still alive.
11. Wrong Side Of Heaven — Five Finger Death Punch
Veterans are one group most strongly associated with the experience of PTSD. It is estimated that between 11 and 20 percent of veterans will experience PTSD at some point in their lives.
Five Finger Death Punch released Wrong Side Of Heaven in 2014 to draw attention to veterans experiencing homelessness, another factor in developing PTSD. The music video featured real-life homeless veterans and sought to raise awareness about the issue.
12. Jesus, Take The Wheel — Carrie Underwood
Many people develop PTSD after getting into a car accident, with some estimates putting the number at as much as 33 percent. Carrie Underwood’s song Jesus, Take The Wheel tells the story of a woman who cries out to God to save her and her baby while their car slides off the road. Though it’s not about PTSD exactly, it has provided comfort for people who are afraid to drive after being in an accident.
13. Survivor — Destiny’s Child
Destiny’s Child released Survivor as the title track of their 2001 album. The song is a defiant track addressed to someone who attempted to hurt the narrator in the past. Though it’s not explicitly about the symptoms of PTSD, Survivor is widely considered a celebratory anthem of resilience and a diss track to all the people who want to keep others down.
14. Trauma — NF
Rapper NF usually explores many harder-hitting topics, but his 2019 song Trauma is softer and more vulnerable. In it, he describes his feelings of loneliness, depression, and fear, asking another person why they won’t help him. It’s not entirely clear if this version of events is true or if the narrator simply feels closed off from his loved ones—a common symptom of PTSD.
15. A Soldier’s Memoir — Joe Bachman
Joe Bachman’s banjo-infused ballad, A Soldier’s Memoir, was written partly to honor his father. However, it’s a much more universal song, as it openly describes the experience that many military veterans have with PTSD. Bachman compares the mental struggles of the soldier in the song to a person who can never take his uniform off, no matter how hard he tries. PTSD in veterans is a significant problem that has been increasingly addressed in the public sphere.
16. Brave — Sara Bareilles
Sara Bareilles wrote the song Brave for a friend who struggled as they attempted to come out to their friends and family. Though the song doesn’t necessarily mean PTSD, it deals with the emotional upheaval many people experience. Research has shown that the prevalence of PTSD is significantly higher among LGBTQ+ people. But Brave’s message is relevant for anyone dealing with emotional trauma, having been described as an anthem of self-acceptance.
Recommended: Songs that center around the subject of being gay
17. Keep Breathing — Ingrid Michaelson
One of the most common symptoms of depression and PTSD is feeling like you can’t bring yourself to do anything or even losing interest in the things you love. In Keep Breathing, Ingrid Michaelson describes how she has so many things she wants to accomplish in life, but all she can bring herself to do is sleep. But she also accepts that that’s all she is capable of at the moment, acknowledging the sheer challenge of simply breathing and taking one moment at a time.
As the Head Editor and Writer at Music Grotto, Liam helps write and edit content produced from professional music/media journalists and other contributing writers. He works closely with journalists and other staff to format and publish music content for the Music Grotto website. Liam is also the founding member of Music Grotto and is passionate in disseminating editorial content to its readers.
Liam’s lifelong love for music makes his role at Music Grotto such a rewarding one. He loves researching, writing and editing music content for Music Grotto.