Was Elliott Smith depressed?

This article will center around the singer and songwriter Elliot Smith. It will explain that he was diagnosed with depression, and went through periods of alcohol and drug abuse. The article will show how his mental health impacted his songs and his untimely death.

Was Elliott Smith depressed? 

Yes, singer and songwriter Elliott Smith was depressed. And he lived a torturous life in dealing with mental illness. The first traumatic experience he went through was living with his mother and a stepfather that abused him. 

He referred to physical abuse, but in the last years of his life, he also states that other things may have happened, but he has no recollection of it. So when he was 14, he moved from his mother’s house in Texas to escape the abuse and go live with his father in Portland. But there he is constantly worried about how safe his mother is.

And from then on he started to write songs. His father was supportive of it, he performed in church, and was a part of several high school bands. But he constantly fought insecurity and was afraid of being bullied, as had happened before. In college, he was part of a loud grunge band, but also started to work on a calmer four-track demo. 

With its release, word spread about his melodic and emotional songs. And as he signed a contract, he prepared to release one of his masterpieces “Either/Or”, which came out in 1997. Through the creation of this critically acclaimed work, Elliott seemed extremely excited and interested in everything in the process. 

But in an interview with Under the Radar, he spoke about how he started to think he was never good enough. He said: 

“I remember that record most fondly even though I nearly had a nervous breakdown,” and “I recorded so many songs for it, and one or two of them sucked. Then three or four of them sucked. Then they all sucked and everything I did was terrible. I was never good enough.”

From this point on it is possible to say that depression became a part of his life. During that time, his confidence was so shaken that he started to mix his antidepressants with alcohol. It got so intense that his friends intervened in his hotel room. They wanted him to go to a psychiatric hospital.

And even though he went, years later he told NME that this was one of the worst experiences for him. He felt like the whole treatment was focused on fear. So if you got scared to say, you would lie about how you felt. He left the hospital a few days after but became angry with people trying to determine how he should live his life.

After that, he moved to New York, and his roommate stated something that a lot of people close to him have lived through before. Elliott would tell his roommate to not be sad if he ended his own life. And what was discovered is that many of his friends, even from Portland have gone through Elliott saying he would end his life.

Some friends had said they stayed home with him, holding his hand, trying to convince him not to kill himself. And that was something that kept on until the end of his life. 

As he began to gain more recognition, like when his song Miss Misery was a part of the movie “Good Will Hunting”, he also began to feel overwhelmed. He experienced fame as a double-edged sword. Although it had its benefits, the pressure that came with it was sometimes too much for him.

And in that period, when he was in North Caroline he jumped off a cliff in a suicide attempt. As he stated it wasn’t a proper attempt, he was running, and just kept through even though there was no ground. Showing extremely reckless behavior. 

But even though he was going through that, in 1998 he recorded another masterpiece XO. And in this process, he played pretty much every instrument but was also excited about it. Some of the people that worked with him during it said it felt like a hopeful process. 

But in interviews, he would seem hopeless, and extremely depressed. And even though that was what he said, for his next album Figure 8, it seemed there may have been some hope. 

But it was when the record label was discussing too much about his future that he behaved most impulsively. He carved the word NOW on his arm with a knife and went on to play on the piano.

This was a positive moment, and it is said that during some time he even stopped smoking weed. But by the end of the process, everything seemed to change. He started to act weird and would avoid looking people in the eye. And this is when the heavy drug abuse set in. He became addicted to heroin and would use large amounts of it.

His girlfriend at the time said she had him on constant suicide watch since he had stated that he decided he was going to end his life in the socially acceptable way, through the abuse of alcohol and drugs. 

But she also said that it seemed like he was immune to it. Once he consumed more than $800 in drugs and got angry because he didn’t overdose.

From then on, paranoia also became a part of the picture. He got scared the record label would steal his songs, or that they tapped his phone. His terrible emotional condition began to show in his live performances. 

In 2002 he got in a fight during a Flaming Lips concert and was also found unconscious in a club’s bathroom because of heroin.

After that, he went through some treatments to get clean, even some controversial treatments, in which he stopped taking vital medications. And this had a terrible effect on his emotional state. He began to recollect some of the traumatic episodes with his stepfather. And on his birthday in 2003, he even quit coffee, red meat, and sugar.

It gave some glimmer of hope, and he even proposed to his girlfriend. But on October 21, after a fight with her, she got out of the bathroom to find him stabbed. He later died in the hospital. And she said that he seems to have finally accomplished what he tried so many times: end his life.

What does his story tell us about depression?

Through Elliott Smith’s story, it is learned just how bad depression can get. Intense suicidal thoughts, constant paranoia, and the abuse of alcohol and drugs to cope with negative emotions. Those are all recollections of what can happen when someone is depressed.

Through his story, the need for support, that prevented him from trying suicide so many times before, may have made a  lot of difference. But it also shows how some work paths, usually one full of pressure, and in which people would look up to you, can be overwhelming for someone with depression.

In telling his story, maybe some people will relate to what he felt like and went through, and maybe they will allow themselves to look for treatment in an attempt to live a better life.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ): Was Elliott Smith depressed? 

Was Elliott Smith addicted to drugs? 

Yes. As it has been shown Elliott Smith had a difficult relationship with drugs. He had periods in which he managed to not use any of it, but in impulsive behavior, he would also quit all of his mental health medication.

But it has been shown that he used heroin, abused the consumption of alcohol, and smoked weed. All of that combined with his mental illness, and the medications he had to take for them, would make him unstable.

Is there a relationship between addiction and suicide? 

Yes, being addicted can take such a toll on the person, that they may consider ending their own life. People may become addicted because they feel like they are going through many negative experiences. And the drugs seem to give relief at first.

But after a while, they become so dependent on it, that it changes them. They begin to feel controlled by the drug, and that can make them feel humiliated, with little willpower. They may try to quit drug use, which is extremely hard. And each time they relapse they can feel like an even bigger failure.

With time, this only gets worse. They will like they are failing not only themselves but also the people around them. This can have such a huge impact on their self-esteem, and the drugs may bring too much trouble to their lives, that they can feel like they have no other options.

 And this is when suicide can start to cross their mind. It can be a way out of all the suffering, and they may act on it at an impulsive moment.

Why do depressed people use drugs? 

Depressed people can turn to drugs and other sorts of risky behaviors as a way to feel better. When they are depressed, they feel so bad, when they do drugs, they can feel a little better. But that just lasts at that moment.

Other forms of risky behaviors people with depression can go through are the abuse of alcohol, gambling, and even risky sexual behavior.

Why is the Elliott Smith case still open?

People don’t know yet, but the case of Elliott Smith is still open because it wasn’t possible to affirm he died of suicide or homicide. Although there are many conspiracy theories about it, and most of the people around him, including his girlfriend at the time, believe he killed himself, the case remained open.

How do I know someone has suicidal thoughts?

If a person is having suicidal thoughts there may be some changes in their behaviors. They can start to be more agitated, irritable, and have trouble sleeping. Aside from that, when a person is thinking of ending their lives they can begin to give away their belongings, and even say their goodbyes to their loved ones.

Another common behavior in people that are having suicidal thoughts is that they get extremely curious about violent events, and this involves facts surrounding death and even suicide in itself.


This article centered around the singer, and songwriter Elliott Smith. It explained how he was depressed, and abused alcohol and drugs. Along with that, the article showed how his emotional condition was shown in his work, and how it led to his untimely death.

If you have any questions or comments about this article, feel free to write them in the section below. 




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