Updated: Jan 6
Did you miss it? The US Surgeon General officially issued a public health advisory for the youth mental health crisis. This may come as a surprise to some, but to most, I bet it doesn't come as a shock. For me, it certainly didn't.
I completed my 6-month clinical music therapy internship at Children's Medical Center Dallas. It was there that the reality of the mental health crisis in youth really hit me. The emergency department was constantly overflowing with kids and teens who either attempted suicide or were assessed for high suicide risk, waiting for inpatient placement. And spoiler alert, there are never enough beds at mental health treatment facilities for these kids who are struggling - the youngest child with suicidal ideation that I saw was 8 years old.
The next time the youth mental health crisis hit me was when I started working as a mental health and wellness music therapist at Destiny Studio. Not only do my coworkers constantly relay stories of depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation in their students, but I also saw it in my clients and in the several consultation phone calls I had with parents. Kids have access to mature information at a much younger age, social media is enhancing depression and suicide risk, kids at school are being uncensored bullies, kids don't know how to process or cope with their emotions, professionals are burnt out and there is less help in schools, kids don't know how to cope after the pandemic, etc etc etc.
The most recent time that the youth mental health crisis stared me right in the face was after meeting Brad Hunstable who tragically lost his 12 year old son, Hayden to suicide in 2020. I was connected with Brad through the Aledo, TX community and he graciously gave me his time, which he doesn't have much of. Following the loss of his son, Brad founded Hayden's Corner, a space dedicated to Hayden's memory that aims to bring together partners to pass legislation to federally mandate resilience classes for K - 12 schools, bring awareness to suicide and bring awareness to the need for responsible gaming oversight from parents. Additionally, Brad released a documentary, Almost Thirteen - The Story of Hayden Hunstable. This documentary is incredibly moving, informative, heartbreaking, and a must watch for every single parent. In my conversation with Brad, I was moved at his wisdom and knowledge in this once foreign world to him. Following this unthinkable tragedy, Brad has done the only thing he knew possible - educate himself and others on the mental health crisis and turn Hayden's story into one that can hopefully prevent other parents from experiencing the same grief he has.
In preparing to speak with Brad, these words hit me like a ton of bricks - We need proactive mental health care. Now. Our healthcare system and especially our mental health care system is very reactive in nature. We have crisis intervention resources, we have suicide assessments, we have trauma therapy, we have medications for those who are having trouble coping with their depression and anxiety. But where are the resources for the kids who have yet to build resilience? The kids who have no idea what resilience is or how to build it - but will absolutely need tools one day when loss hits. Brad said something interesting to me in our meeting - every single person has a suicide risk that is amplified throughout life, whether it be a traumatic event, a situation we didn't expect, a loss, etc. There are many things in life that will increase our suicide risk. But what happens when our kids experience those events and don't know how to cope?
I'm not a parent and can't even imagine how terrifying the thought may be. However, as a music therapist, I do know what is valuable and important for our kids to learn ASAP - and that is resilience. There are many ways to do that through music, which is my speciality, and I have listed the tools that you can use NOW to help your child build that resilience. Your child doesn't have to have anxiety, depression or suicidal ideation for you to begin building these skills. Resilience is a skill vital to us all - help your kids build it now.
Music has an unique way of affecting our emotions. In fact, in music therapy, there is a name for this concept - the iso principle. The iso principle was introduced in 1940 as a mood management too, and is the idea is that music can directly change your emotions.
Music therapists use the iso principle through matching a client's mood with music, then gradually adjusting the music to imitate a different emotion and in turn, affect the client's emotion to match that of the music. For example, if a client is very flat and stressed but the goal is for them to be in happier spirits, a music therapist can improvise or choose a song that matches this mood, in this instance, slow, minor chords, and "sad" content, then gradually change the music to be happier, with an upbeat tempo, major chords, and more "happy" content. According to research behind the iso principle, this is a valuable and effective tool in mood management.
In our day to day lives when there is not always a music therapist present, you can use this tool to affect your own or your child's mood through creating playlists! Simply create a playlist with an emotion in mind - add your favorite songs that you associate with this emotion, and use it in case of emergencies. This is a simple way to build an effective coping tool that you can use at home, on the go and in situations where emotions are high and difficult to manage. I've linked my "In Case of Emergencies" happy playlist for you to use or reference. However, playlists work best if it's the music you love most!
Deep Breathing to Music
Sometimes breathing can seem like a daunting or ineffective tool. When our body is in fight or flight mode and we're worked up, the last thing we want to do is take deep breaths. However, music can help organize this task and make it seem much less daunting.
Another music therapy technique that is widely used is called entrainment. Music entrainment is using musical tempo to modify a body system, whether it's movement, breathing or heart rate. As an intern in the children's hospital, I used this technique all of the time in the NICU to effect heart rate or respiratory rate and saw amazing results. If I had a patient who had just undergone a procedure and their body was under distress, I would use my guitar and voice to match the tempo of their heart rate and slowly decrease the tempo. I commonly observed their heart rate gradually decrease to a healthy rate and their respiratory rate would stabilize.
While we may not be in the hospital, this concept can be applied to us as well. If we're under stress with a high heart rate, can't take a deep breath and have racing thoughts, we can practice deep breathing with our favorite slow song to guide us. If you add a song that you love and has a strong meaning to you, the effects can be even greater. Personally, I use "Turning Page" by Sleeping at Last and match my breaths to the music. I enjoy using the "belly breathing" technique, where you place one hand on your chest and one on your belly, breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. I breathe in, count to 8, then breathe out, counting to 8 in time with the music. Use this technique paired with your favorite slow song next time you or your child are in distress and experience the results.
Learn an Instrument
Dr. Ginsburg identifies 7 components that make up resilience - competence, confidence, connection, character, contribution, coping and control. Putting your child in music lessons to learn a new instrument tackles every single one of these C's.
Through taking lessons and learning a new instrument, kids become COMPETENT in a new skill, build CONFIDENCE through learning something new, CONNECT with a music instructor and other musicians, build CHARACTER and identity through this new skill, CONTRIBUTE to the outside world via performances and practice, use music as a COPING tool, and CONTROL the time and energy it takes to learn an instrument as well as CONTROL the instrument itself. Learning something new is difficult. However, if your child sticks with a new skill, this can lead to a lifetime of resilience when tackling new skills and experiences. Music is a wonderful coping tool in general - however, mastering a new instrument leads to developing all 7 of those resilient C's.
Destiny Studio is a fantastic place to do just that - Destiny Studio exists to build confidence in students, because confident people change the world. Our coaches are dedicated to igniting passion and cultivating confidence in our students, in addition to teaching voice, piano, guitar, drums and ukulele. Contact us to start now.
Music Therapy Groups
Every single tool mentioned above is a fantastic start to helping your child build resilience and take action against the youth mental health crisis. However, if you feel like your child needs more support and resources, music therapy is a fantastic way to provide that.
Music therapy is the clinical and evidence based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals, led by a board certified music therapist. Music therapy at Destiny Studio is for youth looking for complimentary therapeutic options to better overall mental health and wellness, meeting goals and building resilience in an innovative, creative and non-threatening way. These goals are met through research based music interventions such as songwriting, lyric analysis, improvisation, recording and more.
As a music therapist, my immediate action step to helping our youth build resilience and being a proactive mental health music therapist is to begin providing music therapy groups in January 2022. These groups for teens are called "Music & Me" and focus on the self. These groups will focus on goals such as self-confidence, self-worth, self-expression, self-care and self-awareness in a creative and innovate way through music. These groups are an amazing way to not only build resilience in teens, but connect them to others who have similar experiences and emotions. Learn more and learn how to register here.