In High School, I was proud to proclaim myself as a “band geek,” giving myself a derogatory label that somehow made sense of those awkward and uncertain years. The truth is, I never felt more content during that time of my life than when I was with my fellow bandmates, navigating the turbulent mix of emotions that many teenagers feel with friends who shared common interests and goals. Although I no longer play an instrument, I still carry a deep appreciation for what music and participation in band did for my mental well-being, and continue to cherish the precious friendships I made in band thirty years later.
Music can be a useful tool in improving mental wellness for people of every age. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that anxiety and depression are on the rise for children between the ages of 6-17, and with suicide claiming the lives of 4,600 youth between the ages of 10-24, focus on prevention is of utmost importance to save young lives. Participation in a music program or music therapy has been shown to assist with feelings of anxiety and depression, encourage self-confidence, and promote leadership skills.
There is much that is said about the buzzword “mindfulness,” but what exactly is it and how can it be achieved? Mindfulness is a state of being completely immersed in the moment and being consciously aware of nothing else but the here and now. Being focused on playing an instrument enhances mindfulness without effort, thereby reducing anxiety and enhancing clarity of thinking. Playing an instrument can improve brain health as well, actually creating new neural pathways that can enhance learning and perception.
Social connectedness is listed by the CDC as one of the top four preventive measures for preventing self-harm in youth. Participation in a music program helps kids feel a sense of belonging and gives them an outlet to express their true feelings. Kimberley Benson, band director for Erwin Middle School in Asheville, states, “As the use of screens, social media, and video games become more prevalent, I see students often become isolated in the ‘real world’ because much of their interaction happens digitally. Music classes give these students a unique opportunity to connect and to belong to something greater than themselves. Music taps into a primal need to both express and receive emotion, and music can play an important role in expressing those emotions that young people sometimes try to keep bottled up.”
David Sulzman, director of the Erwin High School band in Asheville, spoke of how the stress and anxiety of starting a new school as a freshman can be toned down just by being a member of the band. Meeting their peers two weeks before school begins, they walk into their first day with a support system of friends and teachers already in place. He states, “The support system they have here is a very important presence in their lives. I will see kids throughout the day who are obviously struggling with an issue like family stress, academic issues, or bullying. Nine times out of 10 when they walk into the band room, all that gets left in the hallway. They know that there is help for them if they need it.”
Now that I am a parent of two teenagers I am so grateful that my positive experiences as a “band geek” in middle and high school have been passed along to my children. I know that supporting their participation in music programs will have a positive influence on their mental wellness, and create friendships and memories for them that will last a lifetime.
By: Ellen Minier, MSN, PMHNP-BC
Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner – Asheville, NC