Was Steve Vai depressed? (5 ways of treating depression)

This blog post will give you ways of treating depression. We will also look at who Steve Vai is, symptoms of depression, why musicians and celebrities are more likely to have depression, and how ego causes depression. We will also delve deeper into looking at the stigma in depression and an in-depth understanding of how to treat depression.

Was Steve Vai depressed?

Yes, Steve Vai was depressed. He has multiple times talked about a dark phase he had when he was a young man. He opened up about getting depression when he was twenty and was on a tour with Frank Zappa.

The tour was in Montreal in 1980. He explains the feeling as intense fear, anxiety and a complete breakdown that lasted for a year and a half. He has done multiple interviews since then where he has provided insight into what depression feels like and how to treat it.

Before we look at the definition of depression according to Steve, let us look at who Steve Vai is.

Who is Steve Vai?

Steven Siro Vai, commonly known as Steve Vai, is an American guitarist, singer, songwriter, producer, and composer. June 6, 1960, was when he was born. He started his career in 1978 as a transcriptionist for Frank Zappa and later played for his band from 1980 to 1983. He is a three times Grammy Award winner and has had fifteen nominations.

He started his solo career in 1983 and has since then sold over 15 million records. He has been described as the richest and best hard rock guitar-virtuoso album of the 80s. Apart from his fame, people have been interested in his phase of life when he had depression, and he has not been shy to talk about it.

What is depression? (according to Steve Vai)

Steve explains his depression as a phase where he was hit by anxiety attacks and a breakdown that lasted for one and a half years. He was having panic attacks and a deep fear that he could not explain. He further says that he was not abusing any drugs, but had an intense fear of going insane.

His explanation is close to the truth as many people experience intense anxiety about the future, get panic attacks, and have a fear of failure and rejection. Sometimes, fear of daily normal activities like going to school or working arises. These can be a consequence of depression.

Steve has always had a fear of going insane ever since he was young. He recalled a time when his aunt told him that people get famous, go to New York and then it is a “rat race”. He had always imagined finding rats racing. This fear also contributed to his mental breakdown.

Was Steve Vai depressed? (5 ways of treating depression)

Symptoms of depression

The symptoms of depression include:

  • Anxiety
  • Hopelessness
  • Increased fatigue
  • Sleep problems
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Changes in weight and appetite
  • Irritability
  • Suicidal ideation and attempts
  • Uncontrollable mood

How ego causes depression (according to Steve Vai)

Steve describes the ego as the small voice in your head that constantly speaks to you. The thought in your head about yourself and the world around you are major contributors to depression. The thoughts one has affect how one feels.

That little voice (ego) criticizes everything and everyone, including itself. It is harsh and critical of yourself, others and the world and always has something that it wants to be fulfilled. He further explains that being able to control the ego is the best way to get rid of depression. 

We will explore more on this treatment for depression below.

Why are musicians more likely to have depression?

A study has been done on the top ten professions with the highest likelihood of getting depression. People working in the art industry were ranked fifth, with the attention mostly focused on musicians. It was determined that the industry poses a danger to one’s physical and mental health.

The research is accurate. We have heard many cases of famous musicians dying from an overdose of antidepressants and anxiolytics. There have also been cases of suicide and overdose from abuse of drugs like heroin. 

Abuse of drugs has also been a major highlight when talking about musicians ‌ where it is not clear whether drugs are the causes of depression, or whether it is depression that makes them use drugs for self-medication. We will now look at the top causes of depression among musicians;

Stage fright

Many performers get stage fright and have to use drugs to curb performance anxiety. We get so engrossed in enjoying live performances from our favourite musicians without acknowledging the performance anxiety they get from the pressure of entertaining thousands of people who expect a splendid performance.

Many of them have come out and said that they have to use drugs before getting on stage to stabilize their nerves. The most common drug used to curb performance anxiety is propranolol, which slows down or stops adrenaline production. Continuous use of this drug suppresses emotions and can lead to depression.

Need for acceptance and love

Some musicians aspire to perfectionism even when it is not possible for us as humans. They want their music and performances to be the best and this causes a lot of pressure. Mishaps during performances and dissatisfaction from the audience are major triggers of depression.

Many fans go online to rant or bully artists, which further drives them to depression. We have witnessed some musicians deleting their social media accounts due to much cyberbullying across the globe.

Poor working conditions

Most musicians perform at night and during weekends. The rest of the days are spent going through rigorous rehearsals and stunt performances to make sure that the events are successful. They hardly have any time to rest or to interact with family and friends.

Many of them have tours booked for the whole year, which leaves them little to no time to get in touch with their physical and mental health. Overworking our bodies and minds leads to stress and depression.

Inability to plan their life and future

A group of musicians get entangled with their present fame and cannot plan for their future. The art industry is dynamic as it gets upcoming musicians now and then. New genres of music come up regularly, making the previous ones obsolete.

Failure to plan makes some musicians drown in debts and drugs when their fame and cash flow reduces. They remain struggling to sustain the lifestyle they had been used to, hence getting depressed.

Drug and substance abuse

There is a mutual relationship between drugs and depression. This means that depression can cause drug abuse and vice versa. Many musicians use drugs to curb performance anxiety, for entertainment, peer pressure and as unhealthy coping mechanisms for stress.

Substance abuse intensifies feelings of loneliness, isolation, and hopelessness. Drugs alter the functionality of the brain, which can lead to mental health issues like depression.

Stigma in depression

Stigma in depression majorly comes from a lack of understanding of the illness and fear. It can be categorized into three types;


Some people with depression believe that they are incompetent and dangerous and are to blame for the illness. This leads them to isolate themselves and affects their performance and self-esteem. You can read more on self-stigma on is depression your fault?

Public stigma

This refers to the negative attitudes other people have towards people having depression. The discriminatory attitudes include believing that people with depression are dangerous, incompetent and unpredictable. Therefore, the health system may give them low-quality care, landlords may not rent them, and employers may deny them opportunities to work.

Institutional stigma

This includes policies put in place by the government or private institutions that limit people with mental illnesses. These policies, or lack of policies to protect people with mental illnesses, lead to intended and unintended loss of opportunities for people suffering from mental illnesses.

5 natural ways of treating depression

Set goals

Doing anything when you are depressed feels like a very challenging task. Start small with your goals. For example, set washing dishes as a goal. When the goal is accomplished, you will definitely feel good about yourself.

As you start to feel better, continue adding more challenging tasks to your day. 


Exercises stimulate endorphins, which is a feel-good hormone. This encourages the brain to be active and think positively. Exercises don’t have to be tedious activities.

You can start with going for walks and advance as you progress. Steve encourages people to adopt meditation as a way of exercise. He recommends transcendental meditation which will help you take control of your mind.

 Eat healthily

There is no specific food that treats depression, but watching what you eat is very important. Some people ‌overeat when they are depressed, and this causes obesity, which makes them feel even worse. Being able to control your eating habits will definitely help you feel better about yourself.

There is evidence that food with folic acid (like avocados and spinach) and those with omega-3 fatty acid (tuna and salmon) can help ease depression.

Challenge negative thoughts

The biggest challenge in treating depression is challenging negative thoughts. The ego (the little voice Steve talks about) is a major contributor to depression. Challenge negative thoughts by using logic to challenge them.

If you feel like no one likes you, ask yourself, is that really true?. If you feel worthless, challenge it by looking back at your accomplishments. It takes practice, but it is very effective.

Avoid the use of drugs

Avoid the use of drugs as coping mechanisms for depression. The long-term use of these drugs will worsen your mental health. It will also lead to addiction, which will affect your physical, emotional and mental health and will probably worsen the symptoms of depression.


This blog addressed the question “is Steve Vai depressed”. We understood who Steve Vai was, the reason he and most musicians are depressed, and the stigma that comes with depression.

The article has provided you with natural tips for dealing with depression. Please feel free to comment on the content or ask questions in the comment section below. 

Frequently asked questions: Steve Vai depression

Why do musicians have depression?

The touring schedules, pressure to perform, unhealthy working conditions and low wages are among the reasons ‌musicians get depressed. Most of them do not know when to stop working, therefore isolating themselves and losing meaningful relationships.

Do musicians have mental illnesses?

A study has shown that 73% of musicians globally are reported to have symptoms of mental illnesses. Among those with mental health issues, 50% have or are still battling addiction.

Is the music industry stressful?

Many renowned musicians exhibit mental health issues like depression, anxiety, addiction, and stress. This not only affects musicians but also producers, instrumentalists, stylists etc. the music industry is very demanding, therefore making its workers have high-stress levels and little time to take care of their mental health.


Lindvall. H., (2010, December 17). Behind the music: Why are musicians more likely to suffer from depression?. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/music/musicblog/2010/dec/17/musicians-depression 

Marques s., (2018, April 17). Why are musicians always depressed? Retrieved from https://medium.com/@sofmema/why-are-musicians-always-depressed-f68aefb15b91

Stigma, Prejudice and Discrimination Against People with Mental Illness, American Psychiatric Association. Retrieved from https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/stigma-and-discrimination

Negi S., (2017, December 9). Steve Vai Opens Up About Stigma of Depression, Says ‘Being Drunk or High is not the Answer’. Retrieved from https://www.news18.com/news/movies/steve-vai-opens-up-about-stigma-of-depression-says-being-drunk-or-high-is-not-the-answer-1599337.html

FaceCulture (2022, February 22). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Eu5tKAggzk