Something For Your Mind
Music affects us in all different ways and can vary enormously depending on the day. It can be your worst enemy and your therapist all at the same time. It can take you on an emotional roller coaster – even spending a few hours in Switch will have you feeling like you've been on a journey (and that's not just because of whatever you've smuggled in down your trousers). Whether it's the nostalgia, the words, the voices or the sounds, music affects people in diverse ways and when it comes to mental health issues, it is often the gateway for people to actually feel something.
Being a student can be incredibly difficult – the stresses of socialising, learning what it's actually like to pay bills and keeping on top of your workload – sometimes it gets a bit shit, and when you have problems with your mental health on top of all that, the easiest thing to do may well be to lock your door, turn the speaker on and just listen. "Listening to music is a great way to compare your feelings and emotions to a current situation" says one Southampton University lecturer, "you empathise with the lyrics, and it mostly has a positive effect. My music taste really depends on my mood and the situation."
I asked some Southampton students about what music means to them, here's what they had to say:
"I feel very anxious very frequently, but I haven't been diagnosed with anything. Some songs make me feel more confident, and if I know I need to go out and socialise, I'll listen to particular songs while I'm getting ready, so I feel more pumped. Other times, music just makes me feel like I'm understood, and that I'm not weird for having these issues. For an artist to make an impact like that on not just me, but the thousands of people going through a similar thing, it is really amazing. It almost gives you a sense of acceptance, even though the lyrics may be sad."
Even one band or artist may help if they hold a special place in the heart of someone who is struggling within themselves. 20-year-old Laura told me: "when I was back in Year 8, I had a really bad time with depression because my parents had separated and my relationship with my dad got really tough and abusive. I barely went to school, I went through therapy twice and it never really helped, so I kind of gave up and turned my attention to music. I came across All Time Low, and in particular, their song 'Therapy' really helped me. Despite its meaning, I related to it as I felt that therapy wasn't working for me, but I felt like I was a lost cause without it. Their music and gigs gave me the fun and happiness I needed to get through it all. I've been a huge fan ever since!"
Yet, whilst music makes for an enjoyable time, having mental health issues can really distort the way it is perceived. Take this Engineering students' opinion as an example: "I have depression and I try to avoid sad songs, because I guess I don't enjoy feeling emotional. They tend to bring my focus down, and I kind of become consumed in this sad bubble. A lot of lyrics remind me of the darker times and bring my mood down, so most of the time I don't really listen to anything that has lyrics, it's mainly just beats or words that have no real meaning."
Opinions will always differ depending on what each individual goes through, and sometimes just going through trauma will change the way you perceive songs: "I suffered abuse at a young age and Kesha's latest song 'Praying' really helped me through. It's a very dark place when you're trying to come to terms with something like that and grow up all at the same time, but the song actually made me feel like I had control over that situation, and when you can hear real passion in music – particularly about something you know all too well – it really gives you a boost."
"I'm lucky enough to never have suffered any mental health problems, but I definitely do think that music can give you a feeling of power when it comes to your emotions" says make-up student Ellie, "the first song that made me feel like that was 'Ugly' by the Sugababes. I was only about 8 when it came out, but I remember listening to it when kids would be mean to me at school, and at that age, music really does mould the way you view things in life."
So, whether it helps us through trauma, mental adversities or a break up, music can shape the way that we comprehend situations, and when an individual is coping with their own inner battles, it can sometimes be the one thing that gets them through a dark day.
words by Sophie Barnden