Music-making sessions for young people with mental health issues have had a recognised impact, and commissioning an independent evaluation has enabled the knowledge and experiences gained to be shared, explains Miriam Steiner.
At Rhythmix we believe that music transforms lives and it is this ethos that led us to begin our Music in Mind programme. Around one in ten young people aged five to 16 have a diagnosed mental health condition, but only 0.7% of NHS funding goes towards child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS). There is a real need for innovation and partnership-working to address a service that is overstretched and underfunded.
We established Music in Mind with Sussex NHS Partnership to bring quality music-making sessions to both residential and non-residential settings in East Sussex. The impetus behind this is first and foremost to allow young people to develop their music-making skills with high-quality support from professional musicians.
Using a broad external research process, rigorous conclusions can be drawn which stand the test of public scrutiny
The benefits of music-making also have a secondary impact. Learning vocational skills, working creatively with peers and the act of making-music are all beneficial to youth mental health. We quickly saw the work was having a deeply positive impact on the young people, as well as the support team around them.
An occupational therapist at Chalkhill, a residential unit, told us that the Rhythmix music sessions were by far the most popular thing on offer.
The young people decided to make the sessions a feature of a film they produced for new Chalkhill residents. We received numerous testimonies saying that young people were expressing experiences and thoughts that their support staff hadn’t heard them mention before. This was expressed by senior paediatric nurse Janet Lee, who explained: “The music provides a safe way for patients to let their difficult emotions out sideways.”
It was with this desire to share our knowledge that we commissioned Ally Daubney and psychologist Gregory Daubney to independently evaluate and report on Music in Mind. Dr Daubney is an expert in the field and a long-term collaborator with Rhythmix and many local community music institutions.
Although we are leaders in our field, we recognise the need for a deep and unbiased insight into the impact of our programmes. Without an external perspective, evidence can be perceived as biased or self-promotional. Using a broad external research process, rigorous conclusions can be drawn which stand the test of public scrutiny.
Additionally, an external perspective shines a light on aspects of the programme that we may not have considered. For example, the external evaluation reported that the music sessions provided a space for parents and carers to meet while their children were making music, and that helped to reduce feelings of isolation and the stigma of having a child with a mental illness.
The researchers worked with the young people and the wider team around them, including the Rhythmix musicians, therapists, occupational therapists and parents, to get a broad picture of the impact of music-making.
Evidence for development
The evaluation report, partly framed around a series of case studies and emergent themes, is a comprehensive overview that triangulates evidence from a range of perspectives.
Having this evidence – and sharing it with arts, clinical and medical professionals – allows us to present a comprehensive case for the continued existence of our programme, and the possibilities for development across the country by other groups.
The report also acts as a resource for any group wishing to set up a similar programme. Its eight recommendations provide a framework for establishing and running a programme like Music in Mind, covering staffing, funding and high-quality professional learning. The evaluation shows that an ambitious and high-quality programme, leading to worthwhile outcomes, can be achieved when the right steps are taken.
It also shows that there is a significant demand from both healthcare professionals and young people themselves for programmes like this. Rivkah Cummerson, youth engagement and participation manager at East Sussex CAMHS, reported: “Young people want to engage in positive activities that feel safe and support them to make social connections. In this context, that means understanding their mental health issues and helping them to move beyond them. More than this, young people consistently ask for creative approaches to understanding mental health distress to be offered alongside talking therapies.”
Music-making in mental health settings has hurdles to overcome, but it also has incredible potential for success. Testimonies clearly reveal the programme’s impact. Youth support worker Rebecca Hempe said: “There has been a notable development in confidence and self-esteem for all of our young people. The group was open, highly supportive of each other and reported finding it helpful to be able to join in a group where others could be understanding and non-judgmental to their specific needs.”
With an independent evaluation, we can share our knowledge and experience and help more organisations make a difference, while ensuring our programme is as effective as possible.