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Healing Trauma, Abuse, & Mental Health Through Music , Education & Advocacy

Michael Skinner

I was happily married with my wife…my partner of 21 years. We had five great children. I had a nice home and a very successful business—I had the American Dream, then it all came crashing down...

In 1993, I started having flashbacks of the physical and sexual abuse my parents inflicted on me as a child. Reliving these horrors left me coping with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression. Within two years I lost his business and I marriage collapsed.

I was hurt and I was angry, but I wanted to channel it into something positive. I began going to drop-in centers, peer support groups, and hospitals for help and I learned that so many [people with mental illnesses] have a history of trauma or abuse and no-one was addressing it. They were getting lots of pills, but they weren’t getting much help. In addition to coping with my diagnoses, I was surprised by the stigma and discrimination I now faced.

I was a professional drummer with ’70s hard rock band Train, and when I said I wanted to go back into music many mental health practitioners told me that I might volunteer in a library someday, but I would never work again. I had supported myself since childhood, the idea of losing my livelihood and my passion was doubly devastating. 

Luckily, there were peers and professionals that came into my life and supported me in my dreams to get back into music. I can still see the faces of those who treated me with kindness and compassion. A drummer all my life, their encouragement helped me pick up a guitar and start writing my own songs to perform.

Gradually, I spoke out against the stigma of mental illness and the lifelong trauma of abuse. I was quoted in local newspapers and little cable TV shows. Word of mouth spread and, next thing I know, people started asking me to talk at conferences. After several events, the feedback I received from audience members encouraged me to incorporate songs from my three albums into my presentations.

Today I make my living traveling the country as a speaker, performer, and advocate. It’s very emotionally draining, even though it’s work I enjoy doing. It’s one thing to say, I’ve lost two brothers to suicide, but when I perform the song “Black Rain,” which is about those dark times, it really hits home.

In sharing some of these losses, I am able to show my audience that hope and determination can win in the end. “There is light at the end of the tunnel, and I truly believe that, even when I have dark days I can still somehow say, ‘It’ll be better tomorrow. 

Perhaps the most heart-wrenching time for me was when I was alienated from my daughters in the wake of my breakdown and the turmoil of divorce. It’s unfortunate, and it should never have happened. You don’t get those years back.” Thankfully, time has healed many of those wounds and I am back in contact with my older children.

I have renewed my career as a musician, and my advocacy has brought me a new purpose. I do feel I can help create a change in my little neighborhood, if I can reach one person, it does help me feel better at the end of the night.


Released Albums