Music and mental health

December 16, 2021


Audrey Basham

Members of all LHS choirs join together to sing three selections for the music department Gala fundraiser.

For the purpose of this story, the analysis of music education on students goes a different direction. While certainly true that music offers many tangible benefits, it doesn’t just offer students skills and lessons, it offers them an incredibly valuable place of rest. This sort of analysis of music’s impact on students is a less covered topic in academia.

But for students, it is crucial.

“In high school, music is something I can use to forget about the daily stresses of being a senior,” Thomas said. “It makes me forget about everything bad and feel okay for a while.”

While students’ mental health has been at the forefront of academic study in recent years when it comes to analyzing how educational spaces have effects on students, the impact of music in that formulation has been strikingly absent.

Freshman Providence Fowler plays the saxophone as a part of the concert band. (Sama Abughalia)

Former Lawrence High School orchestra teacher Rachel Dirks presented on this topic during the summer of 2021, speaking about her time as a middle and high school orchestra teacher. The research she did included lots of analyses directly related to LHS and its students.

After having multiple conversations with students, Dirks became curious about how students’ mental health was being affected by schools.

“I began wondering if these conversations I had shared with my students, both in high school and college, were just as common for my music teacher colleagues,” she said. “After digging deeper into this topic, what I discovered was a mental health crisis unlike any I could have imagined.”

According to Dirks, adolescence is a difficult time in human lives due to rapid changes in development. Add on to this an increase in mental health stressors like toxic social media cultures, social pressures and global issues such as climate change or COVID-19, students are under more mental strain than ever before.

These stressors require solutions from educational spaces. For music classes, simply being a safe place for students to go has been widely successful in helping create connections and anxiety releases that are crucial to being a modern teen.

“For me, music has brought me closer to my family since it is a big part of what we do together,” junior Kalea Daboda said. “To singing in the car or going to sing for a big gathering. Music always finds a way to bring people together. In high school, I earned great friends from doing music classes together.”

Jones has taught thousands of kids and is humbly aware of the effect his class can have on students who may be struggling with mental health.

“I’ve seen that many many times where this class, my class or music in general, has really kind of saved people,” Jones said. “They are on the planet because of this class. And I realized that and it’s a big responsibility, for sure.”

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