Using Music As the Bridge to Discuss Mental Health

If you live with a teenager like I do, you may be accustomed to trying to understand what feeds your teen’s mood in any given day. Sometimes bouncing down the stairs with enthusiasm, sometimes sulking in the room the family never uses, and sometimes being proactive in taking out the trash or walking the dog.

Sometimes — all in the same day.

Particularly during the pandemic, where routines have become about caution instead of carefree exuberance, teens naturally have struggled. They know well that these should be some of the best times of their lives, and yet they have been on hold. The isolation is real.

Since May is Mental Health Month, I invited Chris Bullard, Director of Sound Mind, to discuss with me the realities about young adult mental health.

LD: What do you feel is the biggest myth about young adult mental health?

CB: There are two, really. First, that the stigma that exists today is still as strong as it used to be. In reality, the stigma generationally has decreased a lot. We still need to create and nurture a dialogue but people ARE realizing they need help and are reaching out. Second, that kids have to reach their angsty teen years for a mental health need to surface. We know from work with some of our partners that calls to their helplines are coming from kids as young as 11. So, when we talk about early intervention, we need to realize just how early that is.

LD: What do you see is the biggest barrier to people addressing mental health in their families?

CB: It’s probably fear … being afraid to open up the conversation. We are afraid to say the wrong thing or come off as judgmental. But when your senses tell you that something is up, you should trust them. It’s always a good idea to check in and ask how your loved one is really doing. Glossing over it gets you nowhere. Just create the space to have a dialogue. From there, there are many resources to point families in the right direction.

LD: In your view, what role does music play in mental health? How does Sound Mind intersect here?

CB: Music is a bridge of social connection, it’s community-building. When we get together at parties, for example, what do we do? We listen to music. But it’s also a way of communicating. Through their lyrics, musicians are telling stories and sharing experiences.

Seventy-three percent of musicians live with symptoms of mental illness. Sound Mind wants to advance conversations about mental illness and through music, help raise awareness that we all go through a journey, and our experiences are nothing to be ashamed of.

LD: What advice would you give family members who love someone experiencing a mental health need?

CB: If your loved one is in crisis, helplines can be a real lifeline. The National Alliance on Mental Illness has one, as does the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. We also know that for some people, texting for help is easier than calling. So, I would recommend that people are aware of the Crisis Text Line.

LD: How is Sound Mind celebrating Mental Health Month?

CB: Along with our partners, we are holding our 3rd Annual Mental Health Music Festival on May 20, where several artists are performing, including Fitz and the Tantrums, All Time Low and several others. In addition to their musical performances, these groups will be speaking about their own mental health to build solidarity and raise awareness. We’re also really excited about the panels that we are doing as part of the event, which include Mental Health and LGBTQ+ Community, Mental Health and the BIPOC Community, and Mental Health and Youth. Proceeds will go to NAMI and their affiliates.

LD: What else should people know about mental health generally?

CB: I think we tend to draw a line in the sand when it comes to mental illness, figuring that if we have a certain diagnosis, it defines us or puts us in a particular category. It makes us a statistic. The truth is that we all exist on a spectrum of mental health. It’s part of our shared humanity. We’re really trying to showcase that new awareness in our work and in our Mental Health Music Festival.