Music x Mind: Let's Talk About Mental Health

by MassiveMusic



man and woman sitting and talking
man and woman sitting and talking
man and woman sitting and talking

Aifric Lennon, Project & Account Manager, and Paul Reynolds, Managing Director at MassiveMusic London, decided it was time to tackle mental health using music. Read on to hear what we discussed and learned at the Music x Mind event we organised, together with YCN, at the Shoreditch House on March 12th, 2018.

“One good thing about music, when it hits you,
you feel no pain.”

~Bob Marley

Ok, we need to talk.

Why is nobody speaking about mental health when it comes to the creative industry? Why do we feel so vulnerable at the thought of being exposed to the judgement of others? And how can we take the burden off our shoulders and make it easier on a daily basis?

As a bunch of creative musical beings, we decided it was time to explore ways in which the power of music can be used to regulate mood, relieve anxiety and depression.

While reading, feast your ears on this playlist which includes ambient, soothing sounds, bespokely curated to help your mind reach a place of calm, peaceful solitude. Take a moment to breathe, relax, and let your mind be still.

So, here I am, writing a blog post about the event that myself and Paul ran in the intimate setting of Shoreditch House library.

Five years ago if you had told me that I would be in London, working for MassiveMusic and running a music and mental health project, I would have smiled in disbelief – but, in the words of Gabrielle: “Dreams Can Come True”. It’s amazing what can become a reality when the intention is right and the support is there.

The panel discussion was joined by some expert panelists and hosted by YCN – You Can Now, a curated, creative network from London.

Having joined the MassiveMusic crew late last year and with a previous background in mental health research, myself and Paul got our heads together and decided it was a no-brainer: MassiveMusic had to do something to tackle mental health using music.

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    people sitting in front of screen

An intangible, powerful healer

Our mission was twofold: not only did we want to turn up the volume on mental health in the creative industries, but we wanted to use the power of sound to harness emotional wellbeing.

We believe that music can be a powerful healer
, and we wanted to share this with our attendees, with the long-term mission of spreading the magic of music far and wide.

To kick off the morning, Paul gave a rousing introduction to MassiveMusic: who we are, how we use sound and what it was that led us to discuss music and the mental health. He then played a film with three different musical soundtracks, demonstrating the power of sound to transport us to different places.

I then had the opportunity to turn up the dial on my favourite nerdy topic, ‘Music and the Mind’, and speak about the intangible power of music, some scientific insights on how music affects our brain, and how it can be used to calm us in this frenzied world.

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    woman presenting

Rhythm in everything we do

Beginning with a recording of the intrauterine environment – the repetitive rhythmic beating of the maternal heartbeat, I discussed the power of our internal biological rhythm, how it’s influenced by our mental state, and how we can use external rhythmic patterns, such as music, to influence it.

Research has proven that music, specifically slow, ambient music can induce relaxation in moments of distress such as anxiety and panic  when your heart rate, breathing rate and blood pressure are increased. It can dampen the sympathetic nervous system, which is involved in our anxiety response.

There is rhythm in everything we do, in how we speak and how we move: that’s why what we decide to listen to on a daily basis can have a powerful impact on how we feel. Just as much as music can ‘build us up’ and induce spine-tingling states of arousal, it can also be used to slow us down in moments of panic.

The statistics associated with mental health in the UK are alarming, with mental health issues being the number one cause for work days missed. The reality is that mental health struggle is undeniably more common amongst creative workers, notably in the music industry, but seen across the board in our creative world.

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    woman talking to sitting man

Can music make you sick?

Guest speakers Music Management MA Director Sally-Ann Gross and singer-songwriter Stella Talpo were next.

Sally-Ann Gross, who has over 20 years experience working in the music industry, has recently published leading research paper “Can Music Make You Sick?”, the largest study of its kind which looked at depression and anxiety rates in a group of 2.200 participants, all of whom are involved in the music industry.

The study found that 70% of participants had experienced panic attacks
, and 65% claimed to have experienced depression, a worrying reality.

Sally-Ann gave us some profound insights on why she decided to research mental health in the music industry, and what kind of factors we need to consider when approaching the issue moving forward.

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    women sitting on chair

In the workplace

Paul added on his own experience of mental health amongst employees in the workplace, and advice on how employers should approach the issue should it arise. The sensitive topic of mental struggle as an employee, and the legalities that exist around that, stated Paul, are something which should be carefully explored.

“Seek advice, get help, be aware, and if you’re a small company, it’s worth considering external HR support”, as all too often the creative industry may not have formal workplace structures in place.

Stella Talpo
, a singer-songwriter from Brixton, talked about her personal experience as a musician who struggled with her own mental health. She thankfully found a solution in those closest to her, as well as the therapeutic aspect of her music-making.

We all agreed that the conversation could have gone on for hours, and that we had barely scratched the surface on a really important subject which is close to everyone’s heart.

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    people standing and talking while drinking

Music is the answer

Because, even if you have never experienced it directly, you probably know someone who got through hard times. Maybe you helped them cope with it.

The conclusion we can draw from all of this? While being creative can sometimes form part of the problem, it can also serve as an answer when applied in a thoughtful and strategic way.

Music can sometimes lend itself to a difficult emotional journey, but it is also the glue that binds us.

Like that time we organised a sound healing session in Amsterdam, where we invited a few friends from the industry. Hearing the stories of our attendees afterwards made us realise that there was some common ground: sound made us float, wander, it brought us to different worlds. It made us feel high on life. All this to say that, music is one of the most powerful tools at our disposal.

And, if we can learn from each other and be mindful of the potential silent suffering that may be taking place within our colleagues while continuing to do proactive things with our creativity, then we really are doing our best.

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    people sitting and talking

What next?

Our mission at MassiveMusic is to turn up the volume on the very real issue of mental struggle, using our platform to promote conscious and mindful creativity, and to carve the importance of mental health into our world.

Let’s start conversations that lead to real change. Phase two of MassiveMusic x Mind will kick off soon, and we plan to explore a more proactive approach – bringing music participation and interaction to as many people as possible.

We believe that active participation in music is powerful, and there is no better excuse to do this than for the benefit of our creative, beautiful minds.

Click HERE to listen and subscribe to the Music x Mind playlist on Spotify.

Photography by David Townhill.