Using Music to Shine a Light on Mental Health Issues
At the 2017 MTV Video Music Awards, the rapper Logic gave an emotional performance of “1-800-273-8255” – the telephone number to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The song is sung from the perspective of someone who is considering suicide and calls the hotline. Logic has been quoted as saying that he wanted to create a song that would have a noticeable impact on others.
According to the Lifeline’s Director of Communications Frances Gonzalez, the performance resulted in a 50 percent increase in calls to the Lifeline.
“Logic’s performance of ‘1-800-273-8255’ on the MTV VMAs last night delivered a positive message that has had and will continue to have a lasting impact,” Gonzalez said in a statement. “Sharing that healing and hope are possible helps individuals in crisis, [and] as changes the conversation around suicide from one of isolation to one of hope and connection.”
Music has a way of connecting people. And, when dealing with issues of mental health, connection is extremely important.
Big Names Bring Big Attention
A staggering 71% of musicians say they have experienced depression or anxiety or both.
Increasingly, musicians are using their music to shine a spotlight on mental health. Many artists have begun to talk openly about their own struggles with depression. Bruce Springsteen, Courtney Barnett, Kesha, James Blake and Halsey are just a few artists who have shared their mental health struggles.
Lady Gaga has been particularly vocal with about her mental health issues.
“When I speak about mental health, especially when I’m speaking about mine, it is often met with quietness. Or maybe, a somber line of fans, waiting outside to whisper to me in the shadows about their darkest secrets,” said Lady Gaga in a speech in Nov. 2018. “We need to bring mental health into the light.”
She created a foundation Born This Way, which is “committed to supporting the wellness of young people, and empowering them to create a kinder and braver world.” Recently, the Foundation has partnered with DonorsChoose.org, to fund more than 600 mental and emotional wellness projects in 405 U.S. schools, reaching more than 72,000 students.
Fighting Against the Stigma
During November 2018 alone, two music-industry related events were dedicated to the conversation around mental health.
The Billboard Live Music Summit hosted a panel titled “Shattering the Stigma: It’s Time to Talk About Mental Health,” where professionals discussed ways to keep the industry safer. According to the website: “With the continued loss of musicians, stars and executives in the industry, music professionals are trying to find more ways to bring awareness to mental health issues plaguing the industry.”
The panel discussed how the “rock star” lifestyle has not been conducive to artists admitting they need help and often don’t ask for help. And the constant pressure of performing – both onstage and off – have contributed to the caustic environment.
In the UK, m4mh (Music 4 Mental Health) sponsored Music 4 Mental Health, a concert aimed to use the power of music to help break down the stigma and normalize the conversations surrounding mental health.
Mental Health Stigma Music Festival
But it’s not just famous artists who are getting involved and speaking out. Moved by greater awareness of mental health issues, young people are using music as a tool to fight stigma – organizing music festivals, creating music albums dedicated to mental health, and developing musical meditation apps in the hopes of helping others.
In August 2018, 15-year-old Will Gurley of Kansas City organized a community music festival at his high school dedicated to starting a conversation about mental health. The “You Matter” festival featured eight bands performing songs with positive messages. The bands encouraged students to reach out and seek care for their mental health.
Gurley, who has personally struggled with his mental health, explained to Fox 4 Kansas City why eliminating silence is so important: “I’ve talked (about mental health). I think that’s an important stepping-stone, talking about it. I’m working on getting better. I’m the best I’ve ever been.”
Music for Mental Health
Like Will, organizations dedicated to mental health have used song to bring young people together to talk about mental health and reduce the stigma associated with it.
For example, California-based mental health movement Each Mind Matters created a compilation album entitled, #MillionsLikeMe: Music for Mental Health, which features talented young artists who sing about struggling and overcoming mental health issues.
Through the album’s release and other efforts involving youth participation, Each Mind Matters’ goal is to: “Amplify the voices of all people who want to put an end to this stigma, creating a community where everyone feels comfortable reaching out for the support they deserve.”
There’s An App for That
Music has had a positive impact on mental health technology. Joanna Yu, a 25-year-old entrepreneur, explained to Forbes that she was personally inspired by the healing power of music, which led her to create the music meditation app Humm.ly.
This discovery of music as a meditation developed from Yu’s relationship with her father, who suffered from a personality disorder that included depression and anger issues:
“Since I was little, I’ve been constantly searching for ways to soothe his (Yu’s father) depressed mood and temper. I realized that whenever there is music playing, there is happiness on his face, a kind of smile and brightness that I rarely find with him.”
Yu’s app combines music, meditation and therapy to ease anxiety, depression and help with overall mindfulness. Since the app is available to anyone with a smartphone and appeals to a wide range of audiences, Humm.ly demonstrates that caring for your mental health is nothing to be ashamed about.
We recently wrote about why it’s important to discuss mental health…you can read about that here.
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