Less than two hours before his scheduled appearance at the Capital Summertime Ball at Wembley Stadium, London in June 2016, singer Zayn Malik abruptly canceled his performance. He later took to Instagram and apologized to his devastated fans, telling them about the anxiety that he experienced around live performances. He said that he had been battling an anxiety disorder for a while. In fact, the magnitude of the event made him suffer the “worst anxiety” of his career. He also mentioned that those of his fans who suffered from anxiety would be able to understand his situation.
The “Pillowtalk” singer has been vocal about battling anxiety for a number of years. “I always feel like I’m trying to work through whatever certain issues are around certain subjects,” he said in an interview earlier in 2017. He also did not shy away from admitting that he struggled to mix with people in large groups. “I’m not a very outgoing social person in terms of a big group of people,” he said.
Malik’s anxiety stems from his days as a member of the band One Direction (1D), which he joined when he was 17 years old. He found himself buckling under the fame and pressure of touring and recording songs. “It was a control thing. Every area of my life was so regimented and controlled,” he said. Feeling stifled in such an environment, he developed, what he termed it as an eating disorder, as well as problems related to self-image and stress. Malik had described these struggles in his 2016 autobiography “Zayn.”
Opening up helped in highlighting mental health stigma
The star abruptly quit 1D in 2015 to focus on his solo career. Despite struggling initially, he gradually found his bearings and released his first independent album. Opening about his mental disorders helped him greatly, as did the liberating feeling of managing his own activities and routines. Speaking out also helped in drawing attention to the stigma associated with mental illnesses and body image issues. Malik received overwhelming support from fans and strangers for speaking up about his mental disorders. “We’re all human. People are often afraid to admit difficulties, but I don’t believe that there should be a struggle with anything that’s the truth,” he said.
His stint with 1D left him so unnerved that he still neither tours nor performs at concerts. Besides the London concert, he had also canceled shows in Japan and Dubai due to extreme anxiety.
For now, Malik has been focusing on his health, collaborating with other prominent international artistes and working determinedly on his second album. According to his manager Sarah Stennett, “The last few years have been a time for Malik to recalibrate.” He believes his anxiety subsided after leaving 1D. “It was something I was dealing with in the band,” he said.
Anxiety disorders among children and adolescents is a serious concern
The onset of 50 percent of all psychiatric illnesses takes place before the age of 14 years, and 75 percent by the age of 24 years. Anxiety disorders affect more than a quarter teens aged between 13 and 18 years. Although anxiety is treatable, 80 percent youngsters with a diagnosable anxiety disorder are not getting treatment due to lack of awareness and the associated stigma. Children with untreated anxiety disorders are unable to perform well at school, lack social experiences and are likely to engage in substance abuse.
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