Darren Hayes is sharing his story of struggle with mental health as part of one of the biggest music groups of the 90’s.
The former Savage Garden member opened up about the band’s success and how their popularity unintentionally added pressure to the singer.
Hayes is now proudly open with his sexuality as a member of the gay community, but back then, his denial drove him into as deep depression.
“To the casual observer, I appeared confident, full of swagger with my vaguely ’70s blow wave and a blue-black dye job that could rival Elvis in his prime,” he recalled in a deeply personal op-ed in HuffPost. “But my bravado was a carefully crafted persona, built to protect me from years of bullying at school, denial and shame about my sexuality, and a mask to hide the rapidly increasing depression that would soon become overwhelming.”
He revealed that while his crisis over his sexuality was part of the reason for his struggle, he alleged that an unstable home environment from his abusive, alcoholic father also contributed to his declining mental health.
“Nobody could have known any of this as they watched me on Rosie [O’Donnell’s] couch. Savage Garden was on the precipice of global fame and would go on to sell 26 million albums, have two Billboard No. 1 singles and tour the world,” he shared. “Yet no one knew I was deeply unhappy, barely containing secrets that would soon devastate me emotionally and send me to the brink of suicide at the height of my fame.”
Hayes carefully cultivated a persona that wouldn protect him from the public discovering his secrets, especially in a time that wasn’t hospitable to the LGBTQ+ community growing up.
“The ’80s were a horrible time to be a queer kid. We were inundated with warnings about a so-called ‘gay plague,’ and popular culture was littered with negative stereotypes of what a gay person was,” he explained. “I had no public role models I identified with. I saw nothing but death on the news, and although I’d never even told a soul about my crushes on boys, I had convinced myself that by sheer thought alone, I had contracted AIDS.”
The young teen found salvation at a Michael Jackson concert. The fluid androgyny which the star’s performance embodied inspired Hayes to take up music as well.
“I made an impossible, magical pact with the universe that I would become an entertainer and that I would one day make an audience weak at the knees and make an entire auditorium forget their problems,” he continued. “I would fill this awful, horrible wound in my heart with the love of an audience. And whaddya know? For a while, it worked!”
Savage Garden found success with their debut single I Want You and would go on to find further success with hits like “Truly Madly Deeply”, selling out stadium after stadium.
But the success didn’t help the singer with his internal struggles.
The band would go on to disband in 2001, but it wasn’t until 2002 that Hayes sought out professional help.
“It was around 2002 when I started seeing a psychiatrist, a first step in finally dealing with the residual pain from my childhood and my burgeoning sexuality,” he said. “I remember the therapist asking me, ‘Have you ever cried about your childhood?’ I thought it was a ridiculous question. Of course not. I was a survivor. I was strong. Then he reminded me that every child was entitled to feel safe. Had I ever felt safe as a child? he asked. That seemed preposterous.”
It encouraged the singer to be more open about his sexuality, and it came out in his solo career music. He married his boyfriend Richard Cullen in 2005.
His desire to be more honest about himself was part of what drove his desire to return to music.
“I would say my new album honestly saved my life,” the Australian musician told People. “I was in a dark place, emotionally, not understanding that just like my sexuality, my creative outlet is a huge part of the person I am and by denying that, I was denying an essential part of me.”
Hayes most recently released the music video for “Poison Blood” on June 26.
The singer said his new direction in music was an attempt to gain back the years he spent in hiding.
“I realized that I had never truly been myself at the height of my fame and commercial success,” he added. “It would have been a huge regret of mine to have retired from the public eye without having come back to the world as my true authentic self.”
The 50-year-old has more than just new music planned, he’s also embarking on a U.K. tour in 2023. He hopes to share his new message of acceptance and understanding.
“Because I have embraced myself fully in my art, I no longer feel the shame and stigma around my sexuality or my mental health,” he said. “I openly speak about both because I believe they are connected, and by speaking about what most embarrasses us, it’s my hope that bringing light to sadness drives away the darkness. In my latest single, ‘Poison Blood,’ I refer to my mental health as ‘a blessing, a gift and a curse.’”