Author Craig Lewis Explains Why Punk Rock is a Haven For the Mentally Unstable

Max Braverman
Craig Lewis

Many authors speak in front of live audiences in hopes of selling books. Craig Lewis, however, has a different agenda.

The 40-year-old's lecture Saturday night at TKO Records in Huntington Beach will address issues regarding mental health, but in a way many are unfamiliar with. You see, Lewis -- like Sheena -- is a punk rocker.

To the uninformed, punk rock is nothing more than Sid Vicious shooting dope and (allegedly) killing his girlfriend Nancy Spungen, but people actively involved in punk understand the genre is more than a deceased Sex Pistol. The culture's do-it-yourself spirit empowers its followers and allows them to be as expressive and individualistic as they choose. Often, Lewis says, punk's open-door policy welcomes artists, misfits, weirdos and anti-authoritarian types. The scene also becomes a sanctuary for people with mental health issues.

Unfortunately, Lewis -- a certified peer specialist -- says mental health is an issue still not fully addressed in his community, which is why he published Better Days: A Mental Health Recovery Workbook and You're Crazy, a collection of 27 essays by punkers addressing their mental health issues and addiction. It's a sentiment that Lewis understands as he was first placed into a psychiatric home at 14 and later spent a decade getting high. Lewis says he's been drug-and-alcohol -free since 2001 and focuses on having good minutes, good hours and good days, which he attributes to his being "healthy now...for the most part."

OC Weekly (Ryan Ritchie): How did you get into punk?
Craig Lewis: I have been in the punk scene since 1988. I had heard about punk before 1988 via Another State of Mind, but I didn't know what it was until April 1988 when I was put into a psychiatric hospital and on my first day there I met a woman who was a punk rocker. She let me borrow some tapes and she was really cool to me. I realized the music I was familiar with through Another State of Mind was the music she was letting me borrow for my Walkman.

Is there a connection between punk and mental health that doesn't exist in other genres?
I don't know about genres of music, but what I do know is that the punk scene has always been a safe haven for people who are different, unique and troubled, people from tough upbringings and situations that were not ideal, so I think it's been a place where people can go and be accepted even if we're dysfunctional and have all these problems and still be a part of something meaningful. Countless times, people in the punk scene end up self-medicating, drug overdose, reckless death,'s a community of people who are very dissatisfied with the world and feel like they aren't getting their basic needs met as far as mental health issues.

The mental health system tries to identify us as having psychiatric issues because we're anti-authoritarian. A lot of people in the punk scene are labeled as problems because they don't want to play by the rules. I'm all about not playing by the rules and being who you are. That's great, but the things we do that are problematic for us are nurtured and supported -- drinking, reckless living, getting out of control, getting arrested -- and that doesn't make you happy. The punk scene is missing a dialogue. You can be a punk rocker and you can be healthy and get a handle on the things you are struggling with.

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