To celebrate Mental Health Awareness Week 2019, we are running a series of guest blogs focusing on the role of music in mental health from some of the initiatives we work closely with including the BRIT School, Nordoff Robbins, Music Support, Key4Life, Help Musicians & more.
What are your immediate thoughts when you hear the term ‘mental health’?
For me, the term ‘mental health’ encompasses a range of ideas. It is our ability to make friends and build relationships. It is our ability to learn from others and develop ourselves. It is also how we feel about ourselves and the people that surround us every day.
Mental health is an issue which can affect anyone, regardless of their age and appearance. People who are 10, 20, 30 years old, all the way through to 80 and older, can be suffering from a wide range of issues that have only recently been recognised as mental health problems. The NHS have recently stated that one in four adults and one in 10 children are affected by mental disorders at some point in their life
I would like to tell you that if you are going through issues such as depression, anxiety, low mood or low self-esteem — you are not alone. It is very important to remember this and it’s even more important to ensure that you don’t suffer in silence.
As a vocal and speech coach, I’ve met and worked with a lot of famous people who, each to their own degree, have struggled with mental health. I would be lying if I said that I had never struggled with my own mental health, too. Stress is one of the main causes of a lot of these issues, and I believe this has definitely led to me feeling anxious and low at different times during my career.
There is one occasion which I will never be able to forget. When my daughter was very young, my life changed forever after I suffered a brain aneurysm. I was unable to walk, talk, or support myself in any way at all. Whilst I was in hospital, I found myself able to hear the doctors and my family talking to me, but had no way to respond. After a week, I was woken up, but my right-hand side was paralysed. I couldn’t speak or move. It was terrifying. I found myself continuously thinking: ‘what on earth will happen to my daughter if I don’t get better?’. It was an incredibly dark time for me, and definitely is one of lowest points I’ve ever experienced in my life.
Some time passed after being woken up, and my family continued to wait patiently by my side as I was stuck in bed. When I was a young girl, I was trained in classical piano, where I studied the likes of Liberace. My family remembered this too, and played a series of different classical pieces in the room in an effort to bring me closer to good health. Being able to hear the music, I found myself finally able to move the middle finger of my right hand. To this day, I believe this breakthrough happened purely as a result of the music sending me back to my childhood, allowing my muscles to interact with the music that I was raised on. As more time passed, I continued to use music to assist in restoring my cognitive ability. Alongside a lot of very intense physical, speech and mental therapy, I beat all of the odds to make a full recovery.
Once I was discharged, I decided to take some time out in order to look after myself. In this time, I let myself think about things that may have happened to get me in this position — including overworking, high levels of stress, and other things like smoking — and realised how incredible it was that I was still alive.
I wanted to start an initiative which could help other people suffering with any issues, and thought that an incredible way to do this could be through working with people who, like my daughter, were young.
I launched The Power of Muzik to fulfil this dream. The Power of Muzik is a project which aims to empower and inspire young people by spreading positive messages through music. Music is a universal language which everyone is able to enjoy, and no matter what genre you listen to, evokes emotions that are deep within you.
I wanted these messages to reach young people because I believe that the school years can be an incredibly tough time… Young people may find themselves being bullied, or may be feeling the effects of the pressure associated with studying for exams. This can all cause the stress and worry that can develop into a mental health condition.
In order to reach out and provide support and encouragement to as many young people as possible, I developed a vocal collective as part of The Power of Muzik initiative. This is a group of incredible young singers, who themselves went through issues whilst they were young, that travel to schools across the UK to encourage young people that music can help guide you through any stress or discomfort that school may bring you.
Members of the collective include Asher Knight, a young singer who when I first met him at age 16, had very low confidence and couldn’t look people in the eye as a result of the horrific bullying he had endured at school. Other members include LUENA, who struggled with issues at school because she is mixed race, and Denis Coleman, an incredibly talented musician born in the US studied at the Royal College of Music and began writing his own pop songs at the age of 10. These singers visit schools to perform for young people and talk them through the issues they went through growing up and how they overcame the issues. It is phenomenal to hear the feedback that comes in from young people, their teachers and even their parents — knowing that these young people are able to better themselves and reduce their stress levels through music is exactly what I was dreaming of when I came up the initiative whilst recovering.
Having worked with Asher, LUENA and Denis for a number of years, it is incredible to see how much they have all developed their confidence. These young people, who each have struggled with their mental health, were able to use the universal language of music to improve themselves and their confidence, and are now performing to thousands of people every day whilst on tour with the likes of The Vamps, Boyzone and more.
It’s personally very uplifting to see these young people living their best lives, and it makes me truly happy to know that they are doing so well for themselves having followed the lessons I learnt having reached my lowest point after suffering from my aneurysm. It’s great to know that they are now spreading their own positive messages, lessons and thoughts to other young people as part of The Power of Muzik.
To conclude, I would like to tell you all that we are all leaders. What exactly is a leader, though? For me, a leader is not someone who earns a certain amount of money. Nor is a leader someone who runs a huge company. A true leader is someone who has control of their mind. Having control of your thoughts, feelings, future plans and next steps is what makes you a leader.
Having a crisis, self-doubt, or a breakdown does not mean you’re unable to be a leader. In fact, I use crises, self-doubt and breakdowns that I had when I was younger as a tool to make myself feel stronger and more positive about myself today. I have lived through the mental health problems I’ve suffered with, and am now able to help other people who may be going through similar issues. Through my history I have found myself able to assist other people who may be going through similar issues. That makes me feel like a true leader, and I hope every day that I am really able to benefit other people.
You can truly become a model of leadership in many ways, and I implore you to discover exactly how you can make this happen for yourself.