After more than 20 years as the UK’s leading music charity for children and young people, our research continues to tell us that music can have a profoundly positive impact on mental health. In fact, 9 in 10 of our network (93%) told us in 2022 that music-making helped children build resilience during the pandemic.
Self-expression through music can allow young people to explore their own identities, voice their emotions and in turn, improve self-esteem and overall happiness. Following COVID-19, and amid an ongoing cost of living crisis and climate emergency, these figures are only set to fall further. It’s a concerning picture, and young people need the outlet of music more than ever before. In 2021, the Office of National Statistics found that the mental wellbeing of young people in the UK is in decline, with the charity Young Minds estimating that five children in every UK classroom have a mental health problem.
Created by the Mental Health Foundation, World Mental Health Day is recognised by the World Health Organisation on 10th October every year.
We know that listening to music can bring a wealth of psychological benefits, whether it relaxes or energises us, or even helps us to relieve pain. In fact, Youth Music’s Sound of the Next Generation report (2019) found that 85% of young people in England between the ages of 7-17 said that music made them feel happy. The Global Council on Brain Health’s Music on Our Minds report (2020) backs this up further, and encourages people to actively listen, move to or make music to increase their mood.
Wellbeing theories (Ryan & Deci, 2000; Ryff, 1989; Seligman, 2011) emphasise purpose, meaning and autonomy as key wellbeing factors. It’s no wonder then, that music making, as an activity that young people can control and have ownership of, positively impacts wellbeing.
Our Self-Expression report (2021) took a closer look at how exactly young people use music as a form of expressing themselves. It discovered that music and lyric-writing acted as a way of processing emotions and events, and as a therapeutic tool for regulating moods and channelling them into something creative.
Thalia, one of the report survey participants shared, “Sometimes hearing your thoughts out loud – it’s almost like speaking to yourself as well. It really helps you even understand your own stuff better, as well as helping other people understand theirs.”
Many other young musicians echoed this sentiment. Some went further and told us that the act of releasing and performing their music made them feel heard, and therefore had a positive impact on their mental health. Callum remarked: “I like the feeling, getting all my deepest sorrows out there so that everyone else can hear it and understand.”
Some young people let us know that sharing their thoughts and feelings through music helped them to overcome fears about talking to their friends or family about difficult subjects. Ellie said: “You feel you’re too scared to say it, but you’re not too scared to sing it. So you make a song, and then you finally get your point across.”
To promote positive mental health, it is crucial for young people to feel like their opinion matters, and to be taken seriously when speaking up about issues affecting them. Unanimously, the young people we surveyed in the Youth Music Self-Expression report agreed that a song can often be valued more by other people than a conversation.
The power of music and its ability to transform not just moods but lives, is undeniable. “It makes me feel a bit better about myself – well, a lot better to be honest – and, like, ‘ok, I’m capable of doing this’,” said Kelly, a young musician from the survey.
Boosting self-confidence was a key outcome of music-making, we discovered. From our Self-Expression report, we saw that by having something they were passionate about and could be proud of, young musicians felt better about themselves. “It actually makes me feel good about myself ‘cos I feel like I’m useless with anything else, but at least with music I know for a fact I’m amazing at that,” Kelly told us.
However, while the act of making music creates a sense of freedom and pride, suffering from mental ill health is one of the most common barriers young people face when accessing the process. Two-thirds of our funded partners worked with participants facing mental ill health over the past year. Alongside other things going on in their lives, mental ill health can negatively impact self-esteem. Writing, making, and performing music creates a separate space for young people where they can escape pressured situations and find release.
Our funded partners consistently report that the young people involved in their projects develop not just musical skills, but personal and social skills, too. Eve, a NextGen who interned at Kaleidoscope – one of the projects funded by Youth Music’s Incubator Fund – shared that she and the other interns had “learnt hopefully how to maintain the personable, human aspect, when working in the very, sometimes inhumane business end of the industry like labels are.” Andy, the Director of Kaleidoscope, went above and beyond to support the mental wellbeing of the interns throughout their time at the company. He organised regular 1-2-1 check-ins that could be used as a “a space to vent” and resolve any issues, with the aim to improve their experience as much as possible.
It is through actions like this, where leaders and mentors create welcoming, safe spaces at work where young people feel heard, that mental wellbeing and happiness prosper.
At Youth Music, we invest in more than 400 projects across the country, working with tens of thousands of young people. We believe that young people can benefit from the transformative power of music in the same way they do through sport.
If you feel overwhelmed or are struggling with your mental health or know someone who is, here is a list of external private help you can call:
Samaritans - To talk about anything that is upsetting you, you can contact
Samaritans 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. You can call 116 123
Music Minds Matter on 0808 802 8008 which is run by Help Musicians, a UK based
The Mix. If you're under 25, you can call The Mix on 0808 808 4994 (3pm–midnight
Papyrus HOPELINEUK. If you're under 35 and struggling, you can call Papyrus
HOPELINEUK on 0800 068 4141 (weekdays 10am-10pm, weekends 2pm-10pm and
bank holidays 2pm–10pm)