As we continue to move forward as a society when it comes to talking about and dealing with mental health issues we are able to look at issues across all age ranges. For a long time the feeling that only adults were capable of having serious mental health issues was propped up by the “ they are just kids, they will be fine” mentality. Thankfully now we are able to recognise the early signs of anxiety and other problems in young children which may well allow us to prevent them being carried into adulthood. One thing that has been recently shown to help children is learning a musical instrument and it could well be a very important realisation for us all.
What Happens in the Brain with Anxiety
This is a complex issue and this article really cannot attempt to go through all of the points. However, it suffices to say that some of the cortices in the brain vary in thickness in people who are prone to mental health problems like anxiety actually change in thickness. The research is wide-ranging and often complex – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28436445 but it is this change in the thickness of a certain cortex that may be a causal effect.
Learning an Instrument
Research published a couple of years ago analysed the brain activity in children between the ages of 6 and 18 years old and found that playing music actively altered certain areas of the brain. It may not come as a surprise playing or listening to music alters the brain activity. Most people who enjoy music would certainly agree that it can change a mood and help with negative feelings but anxiety and depressions are much more than just moods.
Practice Makes Perfect
It seems that the actual act of practising an instrument can have a more profound impact than just changes in activity. The research showed that it can directly influence the thickness of a cortex associated with working memory, attention control and much more. The bottom line is that actively learning an instrument seems to change the structure of the brain in such a way that it may actually begin to mitigate the effects of depression, anxiety, ADHD and more.
Music is my Medicine
One Author of a study around this called James Hudziak said he felt that helping a child learn the violin might be a more effective solution than medication. This is a bold statement but the evidence certainly suggests there is a lot of room for more research into this area.
How to Learn
There is, of course, lots of issues around getting a child to take up an instrument, especially if they have attention issues, anxiety or depression. They may simply just not want to do it. Forcing the point may well cause more stress than it may prevent so this has to be approached carefully. Professional private tutors are often the best way to go if the child has special emotional needs. Most areas will have companies like www.discoverandbe.com who have years of experience teaching kids in a fun and positive way. It is important to read reviews and find one that will suit your child. But, schools should not be forgotten here. A good school music programme may well be just what a child may need. If they then show real enjoyment it is something that can be moved into private 1 to 1 tuition at a later date.
What About Adults?
Well, there is no shortage of grownups with varying degrees of mental health problems, in fact, most people will suffer some kind of issue in their lives. Although there is less evidence of brain alteration in adults when learning there is a lot of evidence that the focus, pleasure and personal time involved can be very helpful to suffering adults. Music has long been a channel for famous and not so famous musicians to pour their heart out into and this stands for us normal folk too!
The two can also be combined; learning an instrument alongside a child with mental health issues can really bring a fresh bond, a new level of support and a lot of pleasure to a family.
The bottom line is that listening to music is good but learning it is better! Whether it is through physical alterations in the brain or just a useful focus and a shared experience taking up an instrument can only be a good thing…unless perhaps you want to play drums and you live in a flat!
*This is a collaborative post.