According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (2016), “One in four students on college campuses have a diagnosable mental illness. Out of these students, forty percent do not seek help, eighty percent feel overwhelmed, and fifty percent struggle in school because of this.”
Mental health problems are currently a front-runner for the challenges among college students to achieve academic success. The feelings of isolation, loneliness and loss of interest not only distract students from being a scholar, but also from being the person they used to be outside the classroom.
These emotions aren’t the equivalent of “just one of those days” where one can imagine a gray cartoon cloud above his or her head, but rather a weight tied to the ankle, making every task an internal battle. Students find themselves struggling to complete everyday tasks and put forth the effort to get out of bed. Because of interests turning into burdens and class becoming a nearly impossible task, the state of depression worsens as the individual continues to isolate him or herself. According to the Jed Foundation, suicide ranks number two for the cause of death among college students.
As students, we torment ourselves over what has happened in the past and grow anxious for what is to come in the future, forgetting about the present. The numbers are indisputable in regards to our battles with mental health and alternative solutions must be explored to reduce these statistics.
Music has the ability to bring us into these present moment: the fleeting, all-enlightening, beautiful moments that make everything feel as if it’s exactly where it’s supposed to be. And even beyond that, music allows us to experience this serenity with others. It turns a community of unlikely friends into a family. Everyone who experiences music together and the emotion that comes along with it is naturally no longer alone. The traditional standards of who one decides to interact with day to day is cast to the side at music venues. People of various demographics all share the same space through a mutual enjoyment of the artist performing.
The idea that music can help aid mental health has been explored by JMU students in the past. For example, two former Dukes named J.P Riley and Mark Thress used music to help patients undergoing chemotherapy to remain relaxed and positive. According the the JMU Research and Scholarship blog, due to the remarkably positive results, “There is also a possible addition of a music therapy minor to the course offerings of the Music Department, of which the quantitative research on the palliative properties of music may play a large part.”
The artist is able to speak to the listener in a way that sometimes a close friend isn’t even able to communicate. The beauty in live performances is the shared understanding of the concert-goers and each person’s unique sense of healing. The sensation of calmness and human connection is one we all crave and desperately neglect more times than not. Ultimately, music gives us solutions to problems we may not even be cognitively aware of. By listening to an artist work through a similar problem through the journey of an album, one can relate and learn how to cope.
Traditional forms of therapy can seem intimidating and isolating. Because of the vulnerability in admitting one needs help, denial comes into play. According to an article titled Stigma and Help Seeking for Mental Health Among College Students “participants who reported embarrassment associated with mental health treatment were less likely to perceive a need for help or use mental health services.” The negative stigma toward seeking therapy can be overcome with our generation’s strong connection to music, and research shows that this form of therapy is a valid option. One study that focuses on nursing students found that “music therapy has the potential to reduce levels of depression in college students.” The research further explains that music is useful in facilitating relaxation and distracting from existing stress or discomfort.
Since stress is a main trigger for depression and anxiety, other research found its roots in seeing if music could decrease stress. For example, according to an article posted in the College Student Journal “listening to music is a functional, inexpensive, and effortless intervention to utilize in various stressful situations.” After testing their theory of music’s capacity to reduce stress in college classroom environments for four years, they found “this intervention has evidently proven to be successful amongst college students, research has sufficiently established the efficacy and benefit of music for diverse populations in varying age groups,” therefore furthering music’s credibility as a form of treatment.
For those struggling with any form of mental illness, I strongly encourage seeking help. These problems aren’t invalid, insignificant or too common to need treatment. Seeking help can turn these statistics around for our generation and make people the healthiest version of themselves. So, take a breath, plug in your headphones and focus on your breathing. Music can heal us in ways that are unimaginable and no person deserves to suffer under the cloak of anxiety.
Within therapy, there are overall patterns that remain but a majority of the treatment is tailored to each person’s specific needs. What one person finds to be therapeutic could bother another person and vise versa. With that being said, here is a playlist of music that has soothed me during my own battle with anxiety and depression. I hope it can do the same for you.
Becca Roithmayr is a senior communication studies major. Contact Becca at firstname.lastname@example.org.