By GRACE L. WILLIAMS
For Montclair Local

Last year, Jason Didner was the man with a rock video on YouTube who sang “Run with My Troubles,” a tribute to one technique he’d found for preserving his mental health. This year, he’s releasing an entire album to encourage healthy coping strategies. 

Titled “Salt and Sand: Rock Songs to Heal the Mind,” the Montclair resident's 11-song album is broken into three parts — “Seeing the Obstacles,” “We’re on This Road Together” and “Caring for You.” While Didner has released some singles and videos prior to the album release, “Salt and Sand” brings them all together in one place.

Didner pulls inspiration for the sound from a variety of genres, including hard rock, reggae and folk singer-songwriter styling. His love of music by artists such as Bruce Springsteen, Van Halen and James Taylor also influences his work, which looks to inspire even as it entertains.

“I had done so much learning on the subject of coping skills,” he said. “All of this knowledge that I had accumulated and put to work in my own life came pouring out of me in the form of songs.”

Although the songs are coming together in one place for the first time this year, some have been with him for more than a decade. “Salt and Sand,” the album’s title track, harkens back to 2004, when Didner and his wife, Amy, were grappling with a tough winter.

“Amy was going to grad school. We were a married couple, and finances were tight,” he said. “I wrote a song to encourage us both through the struggle till we came out on the other side, [which has the line] ‘Salt and sand on this icy highway will be salt and sand on a summer beach.’”

Didner’s call to action for listeners to look inward and find positive ways to cope is especially applicable these days, while we’re all about two years into a global pandemic and questions loom about what “back to normal” would even mean.

In its 2022 report, the nonprofit Mental Health America found that in 2019 — before the pandemic hit — 19.86% of adults experienced some kind of mental illness. That amounted to about 50 million Americans. The report says 4.58% of adults experienced suicidal thoughts, representing an increase of 664,000 people from the prior year. And 5.08% of youth surveyed said they had experienced major depressive episodes in the past year, representing a 1.24% increase from the prior year. 

Citing a lack of resources, the report also says more than half of all adults do not receive medical care for their mental health needs, and more than 60% of young people with major depression do not receive any mental health treatment at all.

Jason Didner, a Montclair-based musician, is releasing "Salt and Sand: Rock Songs to Health the Mind" on Feb. 4. (COURTESY JASON DIDNER)
Jason Didner, a Montclair-based musician, is releasing "Salt and Sand: Rock Songs to Health the Mind" on Feb. 4. (COURTESY JASON DIDNER)
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Didner says that even small steps toward better personal and communal mental health count.

“Occasionally, if I find ways to break the surface politeness, I talk to people about the fact that mental health is difficult right now,” he said. “They will often respond with a story about themselves or their family member that’s struggling somewhat.” 

“Salt and Sand” calls on strength in numbers, through collaborations. Many of the songs are co-written with Didner’s wife. “Battle,” which contains a military-style drumbeat, includes Fred E. Jam, a Michigan-based drummer. Author Nita Sweeney, who wrote the memoir “Depression Hates A Moving Target:  How Running With My Dog Brought Me Back From the Brink” co-wrote a lyric for “A Different Kind of Zen.”

One serendipitous collaboration on the album was with Didner’s father.

“I was pretty astonished that my dad had written a poem about cycling and had a concept for a music video about it,” he said, adding that at one point, neither Didner nor his father knew the other had turned to physical exercise as a coping strategy, or that they had both written about it. “I had a running song, and he had a cycling song. There’s a line in it that made it right for the album: ‘It cleans my arteries and my mind. / It lets me leave my cares behind.’” 

“Salt and Sand” will be released on Feb. 4 on streaming services and Bandcamp.com. Didner will give an album launch concert at livestreamercafe.com at 7:30 p.m. the same day, performing the songs in album order.

Although admission is free, albums will be available for purchase and 20% of the night’s proceeds will be donated to the National Association of Mental Health.