Austin Declares ‘Hi, How Are You?’ Day To Spark Mental Health Conversation

By Victoria Kim 01/26/18

The special day also honors local hero Daniel Johnston who has publicly shared his struggles with mental health.

Daniel Johnston's famous art piece
Daniel Johnston's famous art piece Photo via YouTube

The city of Austin, Texas honored a local hero and his contributions to music, art, and mental health awareness, by declaring Jan. 22 “Hi, How Are You?” Day.

The day was designated to encourage people to talk about mental health, and facilitate a supportive community where people can feel comfortable to share issues they may be struggling with.  

Jan. 22 is also Daniel Johnston’s birthday. The cult music icon started out in 1980s Austin, building a name for himself as the “enigmatic singer-songwriter” he’s known as today. He not only inspired fans and fellow artists with his intense motivation to create, but seems to have inadvertently inspired conversation about mental health.

The lo-fi hero, and the subject of the 2005 documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston, struggled with manic depression and schizophrenia for most of his adult life, according to the New York Times.

Hi, How Are You? is also the name of Johnston's 1983 album as well as a mural he painted on the corner of Guadalupe and 21st Street in Austin.

“‘Hi, How Are You?’ is more than one of Austin’s most iconic murals,” said Austin Mayor Steve Adler. “It’s a reminder to reach out to our friends and neighbors to see if they’re OK, and for those experiencing mental health issues it’s a reminder that you’ve got a whole community that can handle an honest answer because we want to help you get the help you need.”

A foundation by the same name, with support from Johnston’s family, also serves as a resource for mental health support. Its website features video profiles of people and their individual struggles. They tell stories of living with depression, anxiety, bullying, suicidal thoughts; or watching loved ones struggle. 

Johnston’s early musical ventures were characterized by “cartoonish drawings” and “winsome, guileless pop songs recorded on a boombox,” in the words of the New York Times. “His songs narrated with precision and humor Mr. Johnston’s shaky path through the world, documenting his struggles with his own sanity and his dogged pursuit of love,” the Times profile continued.

Johnston wrapped up his 2017 tour last fall, in which he performed alongside members of bands Wilco and Fugazi, to name a few. “I owe Daniel a lot as an inspiration to me,” Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy, who performed with Johnston in Chicago, told the New York Times.

“Daniel has managed to create in spite of his mental illness, not because of it. He’s been honest in his portrayal of what he’s been struggling with without overtly drawing attention to it,” said Tweedy.

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