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Music Star Harley Flanagan: “Talk about it — it’s better than hiding from it until it kills you”

Well, I don’t know if I’m a champion of mental health, or if I’m just trying to deal with my own damage and emotional trauma. It just turns out that a lot of people seem to be able to relate to the struggles I go through and have gone through. I’m honestly not preaching or […]


Well, I don’t know if I’m a champion of mental health, or if I’m just trying to deal with my own damage and emotional trauma. It just turns out that a lot of people seem to be able to relate to the struggles I go through and have gone through. I’m honestly not preaching or offering answers or solutions for others — I don’t have them. I’m just struggling to deal with stuff, like so many others. I think talking about it helps. Taking about it — it’s better than hiding from it until it kills you.


As a part of my series about “Mental Health Champions” helping to normalize the focus on mental wellness, I had the pleasure to interview Heavy Metal star Harley Flanagan. Raised in Europe and on New York’s gritty Lower East Side among iconic figures like Allen Ginsberg, Richard Hell, Debbie Harry, the Ramones, Andy Warhol and the Clash, Harley began his own musical career at age 11, performing at legendary hangouts like Max’s Kansas City and CBGBs, as the drummer for the classic NYC Punk band, the Stimulators. By the early 80s Harley founded the seminal Hardcore band, Cro-Mags, writing the majority of their music and channeling his powerful survival instinct into the blistering soundtrack and storyline for the 80’s and 90’s. “Harley Flanagan’s incredible story is not just the history of New York hard core, of which he is a founding father, but a history of New York itself,” wrote dear friend and fan, Anthony Bourdain, for the cover of Harleys critically acclaimed memoir, Hard Core: Life of My Own Dave Grohl, among others have often said, there would be no Metallica, Green Day or Foo Fighters without the Cro-Mags. In March 2019, Harley was featured among America’s punk pioneers and the U.K.’s most notorious bands in PUNK, a four-part docuseries on EPIX from executive producer John Varvatos and punk music legend Iggy Pop. In a world searching for authenticity- it doesn’t get any more real than Harley. His ever-growing popularity with audiences outside of the Punk and Hardcore world, is a testament to the ORIGINS of alternative music and lost histories from the visionaries who created it. At his core, there is a softer side of Harley. He spends hours responding to kids and adults who reach out to him on social media in their darkest hours. In his podcasts and posts, he is an advocate for mental health and an inspiring voice for PTSD. He is a loving father, devoted husband, outstanding friend and is in the process of creating a foundation that supports animal charities and underprivileged kids. He is a 2nd degree blackbelt under Master Renzo Gracie and has been a BJJ practitioner since Renzo first arrived in New York in the mid-1990s. He has been teaching — and now directing — the kids’ program at Renzo’s flagship academy in NYC for the last 10 years. Harley Flanagan is on fire these days! Between the Cro-Mags appearing with The Misfits, to completing the Cro-Mags first album in nearly 20 years, to scoring his first feature film — and acting in it, as well, at 52 he says “I feel stronger, happier mentally, spiritually and physically then I have in years, and I am looking forward to the future.”


Thank you so much for joining us Harley! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path?

Well, I don’t know if I’m a champion of mental health, or if I’m just trying to deal with my own damage and emotional trauma. It just turns out that a lot of people seem to be able to relate to the struggles I go through and have gone through. I’m honestly not preaching or offering answers or solutions for others — I don’t have them. I’m just struggling to deal with stuff, like so many others. I think talking about it helps. Taking about it — it’s better than hiding from it until it kills you.

According to Mental Health America’s report, over 44 million Americans have a mental health condition. Yet there’s still a stigma about mental illness. Can you share a few reasons you think this is so?

I think there are a few reasons there’s still a stigma: pride, fear, no one wants to accept weakness; it’s hard or embarrassing to expose weakness…maybe especially for those who have had to be extra ‘hard’ just to survive. It’s hard to open up, especially if you’re still involved in a life where hardness and strength is necessary and weakness makes you a target.

Can you tell our readers about how you are helping to de-stigmatize the focus on mental wellness?

I am focused on helping people. If anything, I’m just trying to deal with my own damage, and maybe if people see that I have that pain inside, and am able to open up about it, then maybe they can deal with confronting their own damage. I don’t think most people who know of me or who are fans of my music know what I go through; maybe it will help others? I don’t know, but honestly this isn’t about them or about de-stigmatizing anything; this is about sharing what I go through, my breakdowns, and trying to pull it together when it’s all coming apart. I’m being selfish. I’m trying to fix myself. I don’t know if I ever can, but I’m trying.

In your experience, what should a) individuals b) society, and c) the government do to better support people suffering from mental illness?

What could the government do better to support people…I don’t know, maybe more treatment centers? I just know there are a lot of people suffering out there, sleeping on the streets, high on drugs…people who are having a hard time coping with what life handed them.

What are your 6 strategies you use to promote your own wellbeing and mental wellness? Can you please give a story or example for each?

I have a few things I do to help my own wellbeing -I don’t know if I have 6. I am lucky I have some friends who also get it: combat veterans, friends of mine who suffer from PTSD, ex-cons, violent offenders and drug users who are struggling with their pain. My main man is a marine who always checks in on me, sometimes he feels my pain long distance without knowing what’s going on and he checks in with me. I honestly don’t know where I would be right now if I didn’t have just a few people who care… but there were times I didn’t feel like I even had that. Somehow I was kept alive; I’m still here, and I’m very lucky. I’m blessed. If I hadn’t started talking to these friends about this, no one would know, and I’d still be struggling with this alone.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a mental health champion?

I think we need MORE resources to inspire us. I do find my friend Jocko Willink’s show inspirational and perfect to listen to when I need a good kick in the ass. He had me on as a guest once, in fact, he was the one who first told me that I was suffering from PTSD. I didn’t know, I just thought I was weak. I didn’t feel like I had the right to use that term. Who the ** am I? I am no champion, I’m a struggling soul just like so many others. I’m just trying to find peace in my mind. I’m trying to calm the demons and be a better person. It’s not easy. I’m just doing the best I can.

Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!

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About the author:

Chaya Weiner is the Director of branding and photography at Authority Magazine’s Thought Leader Incubator. TLI is a thought leadership program that helps leaders establish a brand as a trusted authority in their field. Please click HERE to learn more about Thought Leader Incubator.

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