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Using music as mental health support for teenagers struggling with depression and anxiety

This week we caught up the Eliette Roslin from Eliette’s Music Academy in Auckland to chat about her charitable trust “The Green Room”, a safe and welcoming environment where teenagers struggling with anxiety and depression or bullying can express themselves through music.

Tell us about the Green Room Eliette and how it is helping young people to re-connect with themselves through music.

So yeah that came about probably a year and half ago now. We had a few teenagers having a rough time with anxiety, depression and even attempting suicide a couple of times before they actually got any help from the ministry of health which is really upsetting. It feels like they will only help at the very last minute and high schools can really only do so much.

The role of a music teacher can reach beyond the music lesson. When you are engaged in creative task opens you up to being in a vulnerable place the music teacher can turn into a crucial support person for a student.

Yeah absolutely.

What we were finding was those students that were having a hard time, showing up really down, were having a lesson for an hour and leaving so much brighter and so much happier.

I mean music has such a power. It releases such great endorphins, total shifts in emotions/mood changes, its such a great way to express or write anything down that you are going through, just to put it all out there in a musical way is just so powerful.

These kids were coming to lessons and leaving so much happier and I had a couple of parents approach me and really open up and say…

“I really don’t know how to help, how do you do that, how do I bring her here so unhappy and she’s leaving, laughing and having a good time and then we get home and she is down again, what are you doing that I’m not doing?”

I was just like… “We are just making some music and having a good time”

…and just broke my heart that these kids had nowhere to turn, they weren’t getting the support they needed.

We know mental health issues are no strangers to the music world. We all know musicians who are struggling with mental health but music is such a powerful tool.

So I decided ok lets do something here, because obviously there is a need for it, there are plenty of kids around that do need some support and help so we started the Green Room. I brought it up with Nick Douch and Brayden Jeffrey who are teachers at the academy. They thought it was fantastic.

It’s a band programme. We initially started it for teenagers 14 – 18yrs old but we have discovered the problem is starting much earlier in some cases 11.

I have a couple of theories about it. I think social media is a massive issue, I think these kids are on social media way too young. I talked to school councillors who have year 7s transitioning into intermediate who have massive anxiety, struggle to get out of the car, struggle to make friends because they don’t know how to make friends anymore because they mostly communicate through their devices. That is their tool for communication and they don’t know how to walk up to someone and strike up a conversation and socialise.

It’s frightening. So the schools are trying to teach these kids how to socialise, how to interact with each other. There’s bullying online, just so many issues, and there is heaps of information out there about it.

Kids are getting lost in their devices, they don’t know how to ask for help. They are reading a lot online…eg:

“this is how you should look, this is how you should behave etc”
This is really feeding into the anxiety. We are not a counselling service whatsoever, we just get together and share some news for the week, have a yarn and make some music.

The kids don’t need to be musical.

We teach a little bit on the day, a basic beat on the drums, a tambourine rhythm, a chord, a singalong, just something basic so we can jam a song. There are enough of us mentors, even if only a couple of kids show up, we can still make music.

We do some songwriting, some goal setting.

So like this term we said to the kids “what do we want to achieve this term? We can write a song and record it, we can work on 2 or 3 songs and perform, what do you want to do?”

This term they decided to write a song about an antisocial snake and record it which is really cool and really quirky. It’s also a great chance for kids to meet other kids that are going through similar struggles and without necessarily talking about it they can relate to each other – we get all types of characters which is fun and keeps it interesting.

The group is mainly made up of 12 – 15 yr olds.

The biggest challenge we have found is getting the kids to the group – we have a lot of enquires, a lot of parents that are keen, but then they can’t get the kids there because of the anxiety which is just heartbreaking.

That is an interesting challenge that we are not sure how to tackle just yet. I’m not sure if it is something you can tackle, as long as we are there, the door is always open and when they are ready they can come. If they want they can just sit and listen if they like , it’s totally up to them.

It’s been great for parents too. They sit in our lounge area and talk together about the difficulties they are having with their kids. They might not have had much support or another parent to chat with, so they can sit, have a coffee and chat and it’s been really helpful for them too I believe.

You must be getting a buzz for the results! That’s so amazing go Green Room!

So where to from here for the you and Academy?

Focus on the academy, girls choir and the green room. Last year we were self-funded for the Green Room so this year coming I’d like to see us get some funding so we can make more of an impact. My role will be more in the admin-side which will work with having the twins.