Music & Mental Health Among College Students

Music & Mental Health Among College Students

A look into how music is helping college students with their mental health issues while studying at the University of South Florida

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In a bedroom off campus, University of South Florida sophomore Will Laurie scrolled through Instagram when suddenly, something in him didn't feel right. He got up and started pacing the room, his body shaking. He was scared. Walking back and forth as his breath became sporadic, he searched his mind for something that would soothe this frantic feeling. Laurie was having a panic attack.

Laurie had been experiencing small episodes of anxiety and panic attacks during the previous eight months, starting in April 2017 during the spring semester of his Freshman year. In the same month Come Out of The Dark, USF's student lead mental health organization, held its first annual "Out of the Darkness Walk" which Laurie attended. That was his first interaction with the group before becoming a regular attendee a year later in Spring 2018, and then the treasurer in Fall 2018.
Come Out of the Dark was born in 2014 from a grassroots campaign to create positive conversation about depression but eventually refocused on mental health as a whole to raise awareness and encourage science-based dialogue to end the stigma surrounding mental health.

With 40 million U.S. adults suffering from an anxiety disorder, 75 percent of them experience their first episode of anxiety by the age of 22. Lack of money, loneliness, changing schools, stress, and social, cultural or academic expectations are all experiences that college students are exposed to. These are also environmental factors that can contribute to mental health problems.

While anxiety and depression rank as the most common, other types of mental health issues students might experience are eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, struggles with identity, self-harm, bipolar disorder, addiction, and suicide. In fact, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America reported that 80 per cent of students feel stress on a daily basis, and while some stress during college is expected, continuous stress can lead to more serious and harmful issues. While the conversation around mental health is growing, so is the number of college students experiencing mental health problems.

According to a study by the Penn State University Centre for Collegiate Mental Health, the number of students seeking mental health support jumped 50 per cent between 2015 and 2016. Therapy is one of the best actions one can take to manage their mental health, but with many Florida universities having around 2,000 students to one counselor, students may not be able to access it as much as they would like. Therefore students are finding other ways to manage and cope.

Activities like yoga and meditation have become more common on campus, as well as meeting groups like USF's Come Out of the Dark, Active Minds, and QTPOC & Coffee. Laurie's love for music motivated him to recently host a Come Out of the Dark meeting discussing mental health's influence on hip-hop and its artists, and vice versa.

"Hearing Kid Cudi and Kanye West talk about their personal struggles on KIDS SEE GHOSTS helped me realize that I could easily talk about music and mental health," said Laurie.

For someone that struggled with major self-esteem issues growing up, Laurie found confidence and assurance in Kanye West's music and overt ego. "I didn't start listening to hip-hop until my sophomore year of high school. However, it had an instant effect on my psyche," said Laurie.

After Laurie's big panic attack, he feel into a month long depression. He often felt numb and would listen to music to pass the time. One of Kanye West's darker albums, 808's & Heartbreak, explores themes of heartache, loss, conflict, pain, and guilt. Listening to something so raw and honest helped Laurie acknowledging his own feelings and helped him feel less lonely in his struggle.

"I'm not sure if it's just the music that helps but it's also the time, listening through the whole album and relating to those feelings, then moving on to other music, eventually I wouldn't feel as bad," said Laurie.

Root Christophersen, another USF student who has previously studied audio production, used to work with children with disabilities and used music to calm them and help them become motivated to do tasks they found difficult.

"Using music they enjoy or even introducing them to new sounds can help them to expand their thinking and cognitive functions, going 'outside the box' of their current mental state without having to move physically," said Christophersen.

With a strong passion for music, Christophersen also uses it for his own self-therapy. "Relating to and communing with artists that speak truth about real-world occurrences/events helps me to remember and realize deeper that I am not the only one who goes through experiences, that we are all connected in many ways, and more alike than different."

Experiencing a new schooling environment can be a challenge for anyone, but for British exchange student, Dani Cowell, that change also comes with unusual cultures, social rules, different weather, a change from UK to U.S. English, and new academic expectations. She has spent the last two months meeting new people and adjusting to American culture and life as a USF Bull.
"I've been pretty homesick, which is normal but it's hard to manage without the support system of friends and family that I'm used to having," said Cowell.

The English Major has suffered from depression on-and-off for the last few years and has been using drawing and music as coping mechanisms since arriving. "It helps me to focus and concentrate on what I'm feeling," said Cowell. "I love listening to songs by Young The Giant, Hippo Campus and Lorde, they make me feel better."

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Everything You Will Miss If You Commit Suicide

The world needs you.
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You won’t see the sunrise or have your favorite breakfast in the morning.

Instead, your family will mourn the sunrise because it means another day without you.

You will never stay up late talking to your friends or have a bonfire on a summer night.

You won’t laugh until you cry again, or dance around and be silly.

You won’t go on another adventure. You won't drive around under the moonlight and stars.

They’ll miss you. They’ll cry.

You won’t fight with your siblings only to make up minutes later and laugh about it.

You won’t get to interrogate your sister's fiancé when the time comes.

You won’t be there to wipe away your mother’s tears when she finds out that you’re gone.

You won’t be able to hug the ones that love you while they’re waiting to wake up from the nightmare that had become their reality.

You won’t be at your grandparents funeral, speaking about the good things they did in their life.

Instead, they will be at yours.

You won’t find your purpose in life, the love of your life, get married or raise a family.

You won’t celebrate another Christmas, Easter or birthday.

You won’t turn another year older.

You will never see the places you’ve always dreamed of seeing.

You will not allow yourself the opportunity to get help.

This will be the last sunset you see.

You’ll never see the sky change from a bright blue to purples, pinks, oranges and yellows meshing together over the landscape again.

If the light has left your eyes and all you see is the darkness, know that it can get better. Let yourself get better.

This is what you will miss if you leave the world today.

This is who will care about you when you are gone.

You can change lives. But I hope it’s not at the expense of yours.

We care. People care.

Don’t let today be the end.

You don’t have to live forever sad. You can be happy. It’s not wrong to ask for help.

Thank you for staying. Thank you for fighting.

Suicide is a real problem that no one wants to talk about. I’m sure you’re no different. But we need to talk about it. There is no difference between being suicidal and committing suicide. If someone tells you they want to kill themselves, do not think they won’t do it. Do not just tell them, “Oh you’ll be fine.” Because when they aren’t, you will wonder what you could have done to help. Sit with them however long you need to and tell them it will get better. Talk to them about their problems and tell them there is help. Be the help. Get them assistance. Remind them of all the things they will miss in life.

For help, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Cover Image Credit: Brittani Norman

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Say What You Feel, When You Feel It

Just as we practice thinking before we speak, we need to practice speaking our truth in the moment it becomes evident to us.

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There is a virtue in knowing when to hold your tongue. There are moments in your life that will incite a hurricane of emotions so powerful, that the words spurred by the storm raging inside have the same devastating impact on those around you as a natural disaster. There will also be moments when you recognize that the destructive forces of an emotional cyclone are disproportionate to the situation and that choosing not to hurl the first anger-induced thought into the wind is to everyone's benefit. Mastery of the latter is a skill that comes through practice and earnest effort. For me, it became something that I practiced so often that it turned into a bad habit. There is a virtue in knowing when to hold your tongue, but there is peace in knowing when to speak your truth.

Do not mistake passivity for peace-keeping and allow yourself to be carried on waves of conversation without contributing your true thoughts. When you are not honest with the world, you cannot be honest with yourself. Positive self-perception in relation to your place in the world is deeply connected to internal security. If you find yourself suppressing your personal truth in interaction for the sake avoiding confrontation or because it's the path of least resistance, I guarantee that your inner peace will be disturbed by the conflict of resenting those you haven't told your true feelings to and dissatisfaction with yourself.

In my own experience with biting my cheek in the moments when I really had something to say, instead of allowing the clouds that had rolled in with the conflict to dissipate afterward, they continued to loom over me in the shape of the words I swallowed out of consideration for everyone but myself. Those words reverberated in my head like the incessant "pings" of hail hitting the inside my skull, reminding me that I was agonizing over how to resolve a disagreement that the other party wasn't even aware of. The clouds and the hail would remain present in my life, making me colder to those around me, and would only disappear after I unleashed a cold snap that left loved ones with watery eyes from the icy blast which released me from my seasonal depression.

There is a time for everything; times to listen and times to speak. Just as much as we emphasize thinking before we open our mouths to talk, we need to comprehend the importance of saying what we feel before the moment is gone and we're left holding a bag of unexpressed emotions. For the sake of your relationships and inner peace, learn how to be considerate not by holding your tongue, but by saying what you really feel when you feel it, and saying it with tact.

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