Widely known as the frontman for Communist Daughter, John Solomon recently announced that he completed a master’s degree in clinical counseling from the Hazelden Betty Ford Institute — the same place where he received treatment for addiction and mental health issues eight years earlier.
Diagnosed with bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and polysubstance use (in remission), Solomon has been an outspoken advocate for those who struggle with mental health or addiction issues, often using his music as a vehicle to relay his experiences and emotions.
“I love doing music, but what was actually making me more excited, was what music was allowing me to do with talking about mental health and addiction,” said Solomon. “I realized that maybe my passion now is talking about mental health and addiction.”
Although Communist Daughter toured in September 2018 with Jason Isbell and had a rigorous schedule, Solomon still found time to complete his coursework in the tour van, backstage, and while other musicians performed.
“My band rallied around me and helped,” said Solomon. “We got to a place as a band where we could arrange our tours the way we wanted to, so we arranged more days off. That helped a lot. I was also able to do homework at someone’s house which felt better than doing homework in a tour van.”
Solomon also scheduled tour dates around his work at a community mental health clinic in California, where he completed his field experience hours for his degree. Despite his busy schedule, Solomon organized his time to meet his program requirements.
“I learned pretty quickly that all the work I’ve done as a musician actually prepared me to be a student again,” Solomon said. “When you are a musician, your day is never done. You are always working and thinking. There is no nine to five. I thought it was going to be a lot more, but because I was used to working constantly, it was the same level of work.”
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So I did a thing, I stopped touring for a while and I enrolled in grad school. Today I earned my Masters degree for working in mental health and addiction. Here are some photos that are special, the most important are pictures of Molly who supported and encouraged me and guided me through this. There’s a photo of me with Michael Botticelli, the Drug Czar of the Obama administration, and a photo of me and my friend Yasha that I met while working between tours at Hazelden’s treatment center for adolescents. There is also a photo of me shaking the hand of the psychiatrist that first diagnosed me as bipolar. He was there over 8 years ago when I was a patient in treatment at Hazelden Betty Ford and now in the audience as I received my degree. (Not pictured because they were behind the camera were Molly’s parents who have been so great to me, and my good friend Jeremiah that sat with me over lunch some day years ago and told me I should do this…. )
While Solomon attended school, he also wrote and recorded a new album with Communist Daughter, a band formed ten years ago in St. Paul. Solomon reminisced about how songwriting has changed for him over the last decade.
“I worked overnight shifts as a tech and had eight hours to write music,” Solomon said about his job during school at Hazelden. “It was a weird full circle: the first album I wrote because I was doing drugs and staying up overnight, and this album was the complete opposite. I was in a treatment center as an employee working overnight.”
Solomon originally wrote the song “Ghosts,” from the EP Lions & Lambs, while he was a patient receiving treatment at Hazelden.
Now on the other side of treatment, Solomon said receiving his degree “felt great. To be in this situation now where I can be a professional and hopefully part of the solution, and part of the team on the other side — it feels like a part of a journey. The psychiatrist who diagnosed me with bipolar disorder, who was part of the team that helped save my life, was there to shake my hand when I got on stage.”
In a recent tweet, Solomon wrote that he is going to use the skills that he has learned and move to Kotzebue, a remote town in Alaska above the Arctic Circle, accessible only by bush planes. Solomon plans to work with underserved populations, primarily the Native Alaskan community, in the local hospital. Solomon feels that this is where “he is needed the most” because of his passion on educating and talking with others about mental health and addiction.
It's always been a goal of mine to learn from the people I help. That goal led Molly and I to the decision to move to a remote village above the arctic circle so I can spend the next 2 years of clinical practice as an Itinerant Therapist working for a Tribal government.
— Communist Daughter (@comdotband) June 20, 2019
Although Solomon plans to move to Alaska for two years, he has no plans to stop making music with Communist Daughter. Inspired by his own personal experiences, Solomon believes that music creates a platform to talk about mental health and addiction in a safe and unique way.
“My goal of writing a song has always been finding that emotional moment or feeling you have that cannot be summed up with one word,” said Solomon. “These things that I am writing about may be personal to me, but they become universal things when you are talking about mental health and struggling against your own emotions and trying to understand the way you feel about things.”
Now sober for eight years, Solomon is ready to help others who are struggling, but keep his own mental health and sobriety a priority by continuing open dialogue through his work and music. Solomon is on a mission to inspire and help others by promoting small changes that lead to a positive life path.
“Because of the way that we live, we all think we are running a sprint, but we are running a marathon,” said Solomon. “You can make changes. Keeping your eye on the idea that little changes do make a difference over time by reaching out and getting help from people, and knowing that you are being better today than yesterday- you can add that all up and eventually you will be a lot better off. When I was in treatment, I was broken up about the things I was carrying- suicide attempts, the shame of using, things that I’ve hurt my family with, and thought I can’t change my past, but I can change every day of my future.”
There is no set release date for the completed Communist Daughter album, but Solomon plans to keep fans up to date with information while he is in Alaska.
The time is now to move forward and address mental health. Call to Mind aims to inform and mobilize new conversations about mental health.