Rapper and performance poet Chris McMurray is drawing on his personal experiences to help challenge the stigma around mental illness.

Music and the spoken word have played a key role in the Aucklander’s road to recovery and his art is having a positive impact on others too.

“I say an honest story with my rap and my hip-hop,” says Chris.

“Sometimes I talk about having a mental illness. It’s to let someone who hasn’t any personal experience feel what it’s like.”

Reflecting on the past

When he was a teenager, Chris quit school, got in with the wrong crowd and started dabbling in illegal drugs.

Things came to a head after a drug binge left him wide awake for four days and “off the planet for a good few months”.

He was hospitalised and eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Chris had the support of his mum during his breakdown and, while he’s not living with her anymore, she’s still there when he needs her.

“Any time I need to talk to her, she’ll be on the phone. She’s always there to support me financially and emotionally.”

Tackling stigma

Chris raps about his experience of being unwell so he can connect with others in similar situations, as well as those who love them.

“Some things you can only express in a creative way,” he explains.

“I talk about hearing voices. I talk about them as if they’re 100 per cent real because, when you’re in the moment of mania, there is no second to think ‘is this real’?”

He says the stigma associated with mental illness can be a huge barrier to recovery, which is why support from friends and family is so important.

“When I was first diagnosed, two of my close friends at the time came to visit me in hospital. It was good because it gave them a better idea of what I was going through. Even though they saw me at my lowest, they still stayed friends with me.

“It was awesome that I was able to just go back into a normal life where everyone was as accepting as before.”