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THE HARA Challenge Mental Health Stigma with their Debut Album, ‘SURVIVAL MODE’

“Nobody talks about what it feels like to slowly get out of survival mode.

There’s emotional withdrawals, moments of intense confusion, and so much grief that comes with seeing life as it truly is.”

– Dr. Nicole LePera, PHD

Chronic stress takes a toll on us—that’s no secret. Since it’s currently Mental Health Awareness Month here in the United States, and we’ve entered year three of what could be considered mass exposure to a collective, global traumatic stressor, this might be a good time to talk a bit about mental health. As you know, MendoWerks Magazine isn’t run by mental health professionals, so we’re going to do what we do best—we’re going to talk about music. Specifically, we’re going to be digging into SURVIVAL MODE, the highly-anticipated debut album by THE HARA, which was released last month via Scruff of the Neck.

We picked this album because it handles these subjects with care, yet presents honest depictions of mental illness and recovery in an accessible way. Between the SURVIVAL MODE era music videos, social media campaigns, and the album itself, THE HARA provides listeners of all backgrounds with some much-needed insight into the stigmatized reality that is mental health recovery.

After all, ‘Survival Mode’ doesn’t just refer to a high-difficulty video game setting that can be switched on and off at will; it also refers to the ‘Hard Mode’ that challenges nearly 10% of the population in everyday life–and unlike in video games, this real-life ‘survival mode’ cannot be so easily escaped.

By showing listeners that “it’s okay to not be okay,” THE HARA may even inspire listeners to seek out support, should they need it. They show that the reality of healing can be messy, but that isn’t a reason not to try. In fact, within the messiness of it all, a renewed sense of self and community can be found.

photo (c) Samantha J Guess, 2023. | Find her on Instagram, Facebook

After all, THE HARA have made it their mission to encourage you to exist just as you are, because you are enough just as you are.

Through their debut album, THE HARA not only show listeners that it’s possible to survive time spent living in ‘survival mode’, but that through radical self-acceptance, survivors may even be able to leave that mode of living for good. By allowing themselves to be honest in their representations of various struggles (like coping with ADHD, trauma recovery, and toxic cultural influences), THE HARA also reinforce their commitment to their artistic mission—to “lead a glorious resistance through music”–and show everyone that despite the pressures of current industry trends, societal expectations, and ego-driven desires, it’s possible to live an authentic life and find fulfillment.

Musically, THE HARA’s debut album also highlights everything that was working for them previously—their commitment to clever lyricism, cinematic compositions, and a gritty, ever-evolving rock sound that can’t quite be compared to anyone else’s—and amps it up to the max. Displaying true mastery of their chosen instruments, each member of THE HARA–Josh Taylor (vocals), Zack Breen (guitar), and Jack Kennedy (drums)–all prove themselves worthy of the title “rockstar” with this body of work over and over again.

Refreshingly, this band presents no gimmick–they just make good music.

The thing to know about THE HARA is that they have no agenda. They write what they want to write, and hope to inspire others to express their authentic selves in a similar manner in the process.

THE HARA see the beauty in the chaos that surrounds them, and use that as inspiration to create art that is honest and true to their mission. The lads their resistance by doing. And as far as SURVIVAL MODE is concerned, through this album’s release, THE HARA are demonstrating their dedication to the resistance against mental health stigma by taking an honest look inward, and talking earnestly about what they found.

While one might normally be reluctant to trust the emotional intelligence of a trio of 24-year-olds, their compositional skills reflect a quiet wealth of wisdom hidden behind wild stage personas and coats of face paint. With this album, these young men tell a poignant truth about mental health and growing up… and it’s well past time to sit down and listen to them. 

It’s time to press play.

TW: in the text below, this piece will discuss mental health conditions, including trauma, in varying levels of detail; please refer to the table of international mental health resources at the bottom of this page if at any point you find yourself feeling distressed x

While MendoWerks does not intend to imply that we know any facts surrounding the state of THE HARA’s collective mental health, or any conditions they may have experienced, there are many examples of the ways that (C-)PTSD and ADHD can manifest throughout SURVIVAL MODE, as well as a direct reference to an (adult) ADHD diagnosis; it is with this lens in mind that we continue.

We would like to credit Samantha Guess for her photographic contributions to this piece. Find more of her incredible work on Instagram and Facebook.

‘Survival Mode’ as a concept (album)

“I believe that […] the healing process can be a catalyst for profound awakening — a portal opening to emotional and genuine spiritual transformation.”

– Dr. Peter A. Levine, PhD

If you consider THE HARA’s debut LP as a single, continuous unit, then SURVIVAL MODE tells a story of a young man’s recovery from a life spent in survival mode. In the opening track, “Autobiography,” we witness the way that the hypervigilant, egocentric, chaos-seeking so-called ‘trauma self’ can take control of us once we enter survival mode. Over the course of the next ten songs, we witness this young man (“The Frontman”) coming to terms with the state of his mental health–and the impacts it has made on the choices he has made, his closest relationships, his sense of self, and more.

In the end, the road to recovery is long, but worth taking.

There are two pivotal moments in the album that lead to The Frontman’s exit from survival mode and onto the road to recovery. In track 5, “Play My Game,” the mental ‘game’ that The Frontman is playing against his ‘trauma self’ (AKA his inner demons / a pattern of maladaptive coping mechanisms that developed as a result of poor mental health) begins to change. This is the result of receiving a mental health diagnosis, which often can lead people to finding ‘cheat codes’ on how to better ‘play the game’ of life, or better navigate the unique challenges they face.

Then, in track 7, “Okay That’s Me,” our protagonist is able to begin the process towards self-acceptance as a result of meeting like-minded individuals who truly support him and provide him with a much-needed sense of community. Mental health stigma prevents people from not only asking for help and seeking medical intervention, but it also cuts them off from their social supports like friends and family due to feelings of shame or because of the symptoms themselves. Over the course of this song, listeners can hear how optimism grows once someone is surrounded by supportive friends, which is inforced by the group emphasis on Yeah, we’re listening!

By the time we reach the album’s finale, “Off This Train,” radical self-acceptance begins to emerge. We can now bid our companion farewell, knowing that he’s better equipped to navigate any future challenges that may come his way as a result of this period of self-reflection. Listeners can literally feel the peace that comes with self-acceptance through the gentleness of this song–and will walk away from SURVIVAL MODE knowing that it’s okay not to have all the solutions right away.

All that matters is that you persist.

Exploring ‘survival mode’ in terms of mental health

“When a person experiences or witnesses a traumatic event, their brain enters what is called survival mode… some people may get stuck in survival mode, which is called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.”

Mallory Skinner

In other words, to understand SURVIVAL MODE, one must understand what living in “survival mode” looks like for the people who are stuck in it. It would also be helpful to familiarize oneself with the subtle ways that highly misunderstood mental health conditions—like PTSD and ADHD–can manifest and affect lives. One major aspect of mental health stigma is cultural misrepresentations of mental illness. As a result, there are many misconceptions about both of these populations, but that is why we are going to take a moment to explore the realities of these conditions.

For starters, ‘survival mode’, in a mental health sense, is related to the ‘dissociated state’ that trauma survivors find themselves in, for days to years, after experiencing a traumatic event.

According to Dr. Nicole LePera, a psychotherapist who specializes in a holistic approach to healing trauma, this dissociated state is one where survivors “feel like life just happens [to them] … like they’re out of control and on an emotional roller coaster.”

In a Twitter post from earlier this year, Dr. LePera explains that this dissociation is a trauma response that allows survivors to “keep going and functioning as the brain goes into survival mode.”

She compares it to sleepwalking, to “existing, not living,” and zoning out.

To further understand what ‘survival mode’ can look like, please refer to this list of ten statements describing what it’s like to live in survival mode that Dr. LePera shared on social media in April 2023:
  1. Life happens to me and I have no control.
  2. I feel unable to plan for the future, just for today.
  3. I am stuck (freeze mode).
  4. I’m too overwhelmed to start.
  5. I self-shame and have a highly critical ego.
  6. I’m dissociated (detached from my body).
  7. I can’t seem to get ahead.
  8. My habits reflect a need for avoidance.
  9. My inner circle cannot support me.
  10. I numb myself with food, alcohol, relationships, and anything else that allows me chronic distraction.

However, to truly understand trauma responses like ‘survival mode’, one must learn about trauma.

Without trauma—or the significant stressors that can cause trauma, including the stressors that are present in toxic grind cultures, like the music industry—there would likely be no ‘survival mode’ to talk about.

Unfortunately, some populations are at a higher risk of developing PTSD, and that includes folks with an ADHD diagnosis. Studies have actually found evidence of a bidirectional link between ADHD and PTSD. What that means is, if a patient is diagnosed with one disorder, they are 2-4x more likely to also have the other.

Additionally, according to Dr. Arielle Schwartz, a trauma-informed clinical psychotherapist who specializes in C-PTSD, neurodivergent children are not only more likely to have a co-morbid mood disorder than their peers, but are also “at a greater risk of being abused when parents misunderstand or are triggered by their child’s cognitive differences, distractibility, or impulsivity” (Schwartz, The Complex PTSD Workbook, p. 23).

Being abused or chronically misunderstood like that as a child can lead to that child developing hypervigilant or dissociative traits, which can lead to early activation of some type of ‘survival move.’ If left unchecked, that child is likely to develop C-PTSD, a condition characterized by complex and/or long-term exposure to traumatic stressors, and struggle with the effects of ‘survival mode’ long into adulthood.

Fact: childhood trauma can predict adult behaviors.

Survival mechanisms and unmet needs in childhood shape our adult behaviors, according to Dr. LaPera. In her book How To Do The Work, she identifies seven archetypal narratives that can emerge as result of childhood trauma (p. 129-30). These “archetypes” are like personas that our ‘trauma self’ can emerge as, especially while we’re on autopilot.

The archetypes that are relevant to SURVIVAL MODE by THE HARA include “The Overachiever” and “The Life of the Party,” as both of these concepts are explored in the album.

First, “The Overachiever” uses external validation as a way to cope with low self-worth; they only really feel seen, heard, valued–and even loved–through success and achievement. This looks like perfectionism and unrealistic goal setting, which actually sets the overachiever up for failure. This idea is touched on in several songs, including “Fire” and “Off this Train”.

On the other hand, “The Life of the party” is similarly driven by external validation: this person always puts on a happy, comedic façade, believing that the only way they will be okay is if they ensure the happiness of those around them. “The Life of the Party” refuses to show pain, weakness, or vulnerability, and likely won’t seek out support as a result. This latter part of this concept is especially relevant in “Jesus.”

While some may find it easy to minimize a child’s experience as it happens, the effects of traumatic stress that show up by adulthood can be crippling: cognitive distortions, emotional distress, disturbing somatic sensations, disorientation, hypervigilance, avoidance, interpersonal problems, deficits in brain development, and physical health problems (Schwartz, p. 26-27).

ADHD can take its toll, too.

ADHD has a plethora of physical, emotional, and cognitive symptoms beyond the typical preconception of compulsive feet-moving and chattiness. In his book, Taking Charge of Adult ADHD, Dr. Russel A. Barkley, PHD., references a study he conducted in 2008, which sheds a lot of light on the ADHD experience.

In this study, he determined that there are 10 primary “domains of life” that adults with ADHD face “significant impairment in” due to their ADHD symptoms (p. 34). Of all of the ADHDers participating in the study, 73-89% of them reported “yes” to facing impairment in the following domains of life: educational activities, daily responsibilities, work/occupation, dating/martial activities, and money management.

Fact: your mental health directly relates to how you connect with the world around you.

Exposure to the same stressors that potentially lead to the development of C-PTSD can also affect how relationships are approached in adulthood. In their book, Attached, authors Amir Levine, M.D., and Rachel S.F. Heller, M.A., discuss the implications of attachment theory on adult relationships. According to the ideas presented in Attached, children who experience traumatic stressors, like neglect or inconsistently available parents, can develop an anxious, avoidant, or disorganized attachment style—all of which can lead to significant dysfunction in their future romantic and platonic relationships, even decades later.

Similarly, ADHD has a tremendous effect on how one develops and maintains their relationships. According to Melissa Orlov, the author of The ADHD Effect on Marriage, adults with ADHD are almost twice as likely to experience divorce, are more likely to be in a relationship that meets the criteria for being ‘clinically dysfunctional’ than their neurotypical peers, and suggests that up to half of adults with ADHD struggle with alcohol dependence at one point or another in their lifetimes, which creates additional stresses on the relationship (p. 5, 15). Orlov does make a point to emphasize that this doesn’t mean that relationships with ADHDers are destined to fail, and are actually worth pursuing, and putting in the work to maintain.

Relationship revelations as depicted by THE HARA in SURVIVAL MODE:

Dysfunctional relationships are the primary focus in two of SURVIVAL MODE’S album-exclusive songs: “Faking it” and “Fix Me Again.” In these songs, we see our speaker untangling dysfunctional relationship dynamics that have followed him into adulthood. In “Faking It”, we witness the breakdown of what might’ve been a trauma bond, or a relationship defined by “dynamics of emotional abandonment, lack of boundaries, enmeshment, or avoidance.” With “Fix Me Again, THE HARA further explore what this kind of chaotic attachment can look like in adult relationships.  

In her book, How To Do The Work, Dr. Nicole LePera explains, “For [survivors], it’s easy to confuse the feeling of mental and physical activation for authentic connection.” In other words, when stress responses are identified as “home,” signals of threat cease to feel threatening. “This traumatic bonding is an addiction, as real and consuming as any other addiction, [and it] takes us on a similar biochemical roller coaster” (p. 162-3). With “Faking It“, our Frontman is acknowledging the breakdown of a relationship–and in true survivor fashion, is simultaneously hanging onto it, despite its overdue expiry date.  He tries to look the other way for too long, doing anything he can to ignore the issues. 

In “Fix Me Again”, our speaker is honest about his contradictive wants and needs within his tumultuous romantic connections; he acknowledges that he has an unhealthy idea of what love is, and expresses a desire to be “fixed”. However, in order to be fixed, something must be broken—and if anything, the level of self-awareness present in “Fix Me Again” is a good sign that our Frontman’s healing journey is well under way. After all, being able to accept your struggles for what they are and to acknowledge the role you played in certain situations is a huge step towards total self-acceptance. 

Fact: trauma is hard to define.

In his book, Healing Trauma, Dr. Peter Levine, PHD, an expert who spent 35 years studying stress and trauma, contemplates the complexities of this issue. On page 9, he admits, “people often ask me to define trauma. After thirty years, this is still a challenge.” Defining what trauma is can be challenging, in part, because trauma isn’t any one easily-identifiable thing.

One’s predisposition towards PTSD is based on a variety of factors as well. Two survivors with similar backgrounds—who grew up in the same home, and who went through similar traumatic experiences—may still have their symptoms manifest completely differently, if they develop at all.

Dr. Levine does shed a little light on the topic, however:

“What I know is that [trauma can] impact us in obvious ways, as well as ways that are subtle. Trauma can, in fact, impact us in ways that don’t show up for years […]

“[Trauma] is often hard to recognize, because it doesn’t happen all at once; it can happen slowly, over time, and we adapt to these subtle changes sometimes without even noticing them. These are the hidden effects of trauma, the ones most of us keep to ourselves. We may simply sense that we do not feel quite right, without ever becoming fully aware of what is taking place; that is, the gradual undermining of our self-esteem, self-confidence, feelings of well-being, and connection to life” (p. 9).

Additionally, early symptoms that are indicative of trauma include emotional deregulation, hypervigilance, and nightmares, but others can take years to develop. Long-term effects of trauma can be things like like forgetfulness, addictive behaviors and self-medicating, chronic pain conditions (like fibromyalgia or migraine), diminished emotional responses, an attraction to danger or chaos, and the inability to plan or honor commitments (Levine, p. 17-19).

However, a traumatized person doesn’t always realize they’re acting from a place of trauma.

In other words, a traumatized person can become desensitized to their own trauma responses—and many survivors don’t even realize that their maladaptive behaviors are trauma-related, due to the timing of their arrival or desensitization to their presence. This phenomenon creates a pattern of poor coping mechanisms that can result in chronic experiences of ‘survival mode’ that can last years on end.

This idea of being controlled by post-traumatic patterns is especially highlighted in track 4 of SURVIVAL MODE, “Circles”. The Frontman’s penchant for “running in circles”, or repeating the behaviors and patterns that no longer serve him, is a familiar experience for those who have dealt with certain mental health conditions, including the ones we’re discussed here. Sometimes, they don’t even realize they’re stuck in a pattern—in the absence of a sense of agency, survivors are left with some dissociated notion of dissonance, a feeling reflected in the lines ‘not feeling myself lately / my reflection’s acting strangely”– but often don’t realize that this strange ‘reflection,’ or the version of themselves ruled by their bad habits, isn’t really ‘them’, but is instead their ‘trauma self’. The trauma self is the one creating patterns–the one that is ‘running in circles’.

Living in survival mode can also erode one’s sense of self-trust as well, as demonstrated by our narrator asking someone else to check if his head is “screwed on tightly,” rather than listening to his gut about whether or not he’s metaphorically about to lose his head, or, put bluntly—about to go actually crazy. This is another example of the survivor’s need for external validation as well. 

Before you think to yourself, ‘Well, kids these days just need to toughen up!’ –

It’s really not that simple, and that’s not a helpful attitude to have.

In reality, attitudes like that are why people—especially men—seek mental health treatment at far lower rates than their peers. In fact, of all the talk therapy referrals that were written by the NHS in 2021, only 36% of them were for men. Yet, depression and suicide are ranked as a leading cause of death among men, and they are 2-3x more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol (in other words, self-medicate) as well.

These stigmatizing attitudes also create a major barrier for men seeking mental health treatment, according to an article published by American Journal of Men’s Health. There are several sides to mental health stigma, including “social (public) stigma, self-stigma (perceived), professional stigma, and cultural stigma.”

Social stigma is the most common type of stigma that is talked about in this context; this type of stigma can look like someone considering a man to be “weak” if he asks for help with his mental health, and that same man being avoided or rejected by his peers due to this perceived “weakness.” It can also look like telling someone to “man up” when they’re going through a rough time. It’s a tragedy that we’ve all been complicit in, and the men in our communities deserve better.

Fact: men often fight multiple silent, co-morbid battles.

Self medication is a strong theme throughout THE HARA’s SURVIVAL MODE, but is especially prevalent early on, in track 2, “Rockstar.” This song depicts the loss of connection between The Frontman and his earliest supporters as he hits certain milestones in the music industry… and the way in which our speaker “copes” with that.

Through creating a sort of voicemail / response effect within each of the verses, THE HARA masterfully create a stark sense of dissonance in what once may have been a close relationship. There’s lack of commitment, lack of mutual understanding… this connection from then past likely sees our Frontman primarily via social media or at gigs where he must hide behind his stage persona, and thus, they make assumptions about a life they know absolutely nothing truly honest about. 

At times, our speaker expresses an overwhelming amount of conflicting feelings—he longs for home, but he also confesses that folks back home “don’t give a fuck” about him—and so, he self-medicates with alcohol. By the end of the song, our Frontman loses control of his self-medicating, to the point of questioning whether or not he’ll even survive it. We see this loss of control in a subtle change in references to the belief that he’s “gonna pa-pa-pass out” (as a result of his drinking) to the worry that he’s worried that he’s “gonna die-die-die tonight” instead.

The duality of rockstardom

At the surface, this trend of binge drinking appears to be the result of—or even a qualifying factor of—stardom (“I’ve been drinking so much vodka/like a rockstar”). But, for someone with risk factors for alcohol dependence and addiction, it demonstrates how quickly these seemingly harmless coping mechanisms (like drinking away thoughts of relationship problems, as referenced briefly in “Faking It”) can get out of hand.

In “Rockstar”, we also see how quickly a young man’s willingness to ask for help amid a crisis (“somebody call a doc-doc-doctor–”) can dissipate. This request for help is actually squashed in the same breath (“–allright that’s getting too far now”).

In true ‘survival mode’ fashion, instead of reaching out to this distant, message-leaving friend to talk about what’s really been going on, our Frontman continues to drift, isolate, and self-medicate himself into oblivion. It’s only after he receives a diagnosis—and a glimmer of hope—in “Play My Game”, and finds community in the support of new, like-minded friends, as seen in “Okay that’s Me”, does our Frontman begin to find his agency, and in turn, begin to make strives towards life-saving, radical self-acceptance. If left to his own devices, our Frontman might not have made it.

This is a culturally-prescribed stigma.

By design, western culture’s masculine norms reinforce the idea that men must suffer in silence.

This could be part of why THE HARA made a point to shine a light on what this experience is like–because suffering doesn’t have to be the answer.

But because these norms emphasize power, dominance, control, and productivity, they also enable dangerous coping mechanisms like unchecked self-medication (“you just need to go out and have some fun / blow off some steam!”) within male populations, while also actively discouraging men from asking for help before it’s too late (“oh, just man up already!”).

In track 11, “Jesus,” THE HARA comment on this phenomenon through paradoxical allusions to Christ that are interjected with a near-chant of the lines, “don’t try to fight it, it’s a beautiful thing / your bruises and scars are a beautiful thing”—because suffering in silence, as is encouraged by being told to ‘not fight it’, is anything but ‘a beautiful thing’.

For beauty–! For glory–!

The allusions to Christ point out the cruel reality of mental health stigma. One layer of this is, if our Frontman opts to suffer in silence, he can become Christlike. There is nothing more glorious than Christ!

However, in doing so, he is also opting to sacrifice himself, as Christ is also a sacrificial figure.

On another level, there’s a chance that our speaker is “finding [his] Jesus”–his Savior–in his suffering. This is because to someone who is used to living in ‘survival mode,’ embracing his suffering may actually seem like a logical way to “save” himself. Similar to the notion that attending church services may bring peace to the religious, the chaos and pain found in The Frontman’s mental suffering have become comfortable and familiar, perhaps even peaceful–like church. Again, this is because ‘survival mode’ has diminished his ability to properly recognize, and engage with, his emotions–and not some ‘beautiful thing’.

Either way, as THE HARA tells their fanbase: it’s better to talk to your friends, family, or even a professional, about all this—than to sacrifice yourself to a life in silent pain.

A final note on ‘survival mode’ and video games–

Thankfully, as seen in “Okay That’s Me,” peer support can make a world of difference in terms of mental health recovery, and it’s common knowledge that talking to your friends is key in working through a hard time.

Even something as simple as playing a video game online with your friends can be enough to provide a sense of community, and to create a safe enough space to begin the process towards radical self-acceptance. According to this 2021 report, video games actually provide substantial social interaction among young men, and through it, they can find social support and connect with their peers.

Some studies have even implied that video games have numerous mental health benefits, and they can actually play a role in treating post-traumatic disorders.

Humorously, it seems that ‘survival mode’ (games) may be the key to surviving… well, ‘survival mode’, after all.

And while we’re stuck in a world where men don’t get many other opportunities to connect or express themselves… we say: lads, game on.

Connect with THE HARA:

Are you looking for some support?

The world is better with you in it, so please don’t be afraid to reach out to local support networks in order to get some help if you need it:



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