Mental Health Resources for Young Musicians

Mental health is an important topic for people of any age, but young musicians can face their own unique challenges, especially while we’re all social distancing to combat COVID. CYSO recently hosted a panel discussion on our Facebook page with musicians and mental health experts exploring topics including how young people can develop strategies for self-care, how family members can spot warning signs of mental health struggles, and how musicians can use mindfulness help improve outlook and performance. Our panelists included Renée-Paule Gauthier, performer, teacher, and podcaster at Mind Over Finger; Alexandria Hoffman, CYSO alum, Civic Orchestra fellow, mental health educator and co-founder of Classical Musicians’ Roundtable; and Melissa M. Thompson, licensed clinical social worker, therapist, professor, and CYSO parent.

In addition to our livestream, we wanted to share a few additional resources and slightly edited takeaway quotes from the conversation. You can also watch the original discussion here. We hope that these will offer support our young musicians and their families, and to musicians of any age.

Suicide Prevention Hotlines

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800 273 8255
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24/7 free and confidential support for people in distress as well as prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones.
Trevor Project Hotline: 1-866-488-7386
The Trevor Project provides confidential support for LGBTQ+ youth in crisis, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Perfectionism and practice habits

One of the best things to do first is to develop knowledge about how to practice efficiently. When it comes to things like imposter syndrome, that starts at a really young age. But we can lear from a young age to analyze our thoughts in terms of, “Is what I’m thinking right now rational? Does it make sense?” Doing exercise as simple as putting on paper a list of our accomplishments, instead of thinking of all the things that we are not yet, helps us focus on all of the wonderful things that was have done. Even things such as “I show up week after week for my a lesson and I try to apply what my teacher is telling me. And I do sports and I show up at school and I’m a good friend.”
– Renée-Paule Gauthier

One of the things that we talk about in our house is the concept of deliberate practice. Similar to what Renee was talking about, on one side of the page you write what went well, and on the other side, this is what didn’t go the way I wanted. So when you come to sit in practice again, you can think to yourself, “What didn’t go the way I wanted last time?” and maybe that’s where I’ll focus or today.  As a mom who isn’t a musician, I can ask to see my son’s deliberate practice log and we can look at what went well. If I see my son write that he was frustrated, I can say “I’d love to know why you were frustrated.” I can’t make a reed to save my life right but I can reach out and ask about how I can support him.
– Melissa Thompson

Mistakes are not only something that we should allow ourselves to make, but also seek out. We should go for things without fear of the mistakes. One question I like to ask is, “If you knew you could not fail, what would you go after?”
– Renée-Paule Gauthier

I think that one problem that we have as musician is if we miss one thing, we feel like a terrible person. The thing I tell my students is to try becoming the observer rather than the person who made the mistake. If you become the observer of what’s happening, you’re able to take a step back and become a little bit more rational. I also suggest really paying attention to the language that you’re using. “I can’t believe I missed this. Oh my gosh, I’m ridiculous,” but rather asking myself, “What happened?” because “what happened” is always neutral. Ask yourself if you’re judging yourself or self-assessing, because they are two very different things. The issues that I experienced in the practice room usually comes from self judgment. My judgment is clouded by anger, by feeling less than, by frustration, by sadness. But when I really start to look at it from an objective perspective, I can be clear-headed to come up with solutions and feel empowered.
– Renée-Paule Gauthier

How families can support young musicians

I think this idea of validation is so huge. My parents were not musicians but they drove me everywhere I needed to go, they got me the equipment I needed, the lessons I needed. And they came to every single concert, which was huge for me. I want to put special emphasis on showing up because that is such a big part of supporting your child. And also to take that next step of asking those questions: “How can I help you?” or “What do you need?” Questions encourages your child to think about their own needs and to also practice articulating those needs.
– Alexandria Hoffman

Being a parent has taught me to ask the question, “Tell me more.” I’m from a family of problem solvers—if I go to my mom with a problem, she wants to solve it right away. But oftentimes I just need to talk about it. My instinct is to want to provide solutions so badly but I’ve learned that if I just ask for my kids to tell me more, it leads to better place.
– Renée-Paule Gauthier

Dealing with COVID

Now that kids are in remote school, we’re back to having a little more structure at home and it’s hard. I see my son who seems to be fine with it and then my daughter who yesterday was crying about missing her friends and going to school. There’s this need for more community with their friends. In our house, we talk about mitigated risk. For a teenager, we’ve got to take some risk or we’re going to really lose a lot in mental health. It is so important for teenagers not to be hooked to their parents. So families have to evaluate that isolation.
– Melissa Thompson

How to help someone who’s struggling

If someone is struggling, think about whether it’s been going on for 2-4 weeks. Less than that, it’s not necessarily something you need to worry about yet. But if it doesn’t seem right for 2 or more weeks, that’s when you need to reach out to someone. It takes a lot of courage to reach out, if it’s for you or if it’s for your friend who’s struggling. But we have to keep a person alive, that’s most important.
-Melissa Thompson

Comments like “I want to die” isn’t always taken seriously. Sometimes it’s dismissed as if this person is is dramatic or this person is overreacting. Having candid conversations about mental health is so important, so someone can feel safe to say, “I’m really struggling right now.” It seems to me that young people do best when they know about someone else who’s had a mental health issue. They need to hear, “You know Bob went to counseling.” It’s about trying to change the culture around mental health.
– Melissa Thompson

Mindfulness and Self-Care Practice

The second you mentioned meditation to teenagers, they roll their eyes, and I resisted it for a long time, too. For me, I learned that having a mindfulness practice is so helpful. It doesn’t have to be meditation, it could just be I have a gratitude practice that I really like. It could be something as simple as writing down three things you’re grateful for every day. I walk away from this practice feeling centered towards the positive things in my life because there’s many negatives that we have to face. Taking the time to breathe a little bit in meditation brings me a clarity that I would usually find lacking. It helps me to steer away from judgment and get back to objectivity.
– Renée-Paule Gauthier

Mindfulness was not something that anyone ever told me to practice and I think setting the example is so important. It’s on us to infuse our students and children’s lives with this idea of taking care of themselves. Getting kids to slow down can be very difficult. A lot of parents have the mindset of in order to be successful, you have to do everything all the time, but that can actually be really harmful. I say that as somebody who developed a mindset that I needed to be busy every second of the day or I wasn’t going to be successful. But that thinking completely destroyed my mental health because I didn’t take time for myself, and when I did I felt guilty (and even sometimes still feel guilty). But it’s okay not to fire on all cylinders all the time. That’s really hard for kids to hear because they’re like, “But I love everything that I do!” But if you’re not holding any space for yourself, it’s going to come back to bite you in later.
– Alexandria Hoffman

Further Resources:

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