Music for Young People with Long-Term Conditions

Free music sessions to improve the mental health and wellbeing of young people who have long-term conditions (LTCs)

“This new and exciting project has enormous benefits for the body and mind, helping people to live well with long-term conditions.” – Helen Makins, Consultant in Pain Medicine, NHS Gloucestershire Hospitals

We’re a Gloucestershire-based music charity with expert music leaders and therapists who specialise in working with young people. NHS Gloucestershire CCG has commissioned us to provide free music-therapy-led sessions as part of their Arts on Prescription programme (via the Gloucestershire Creative Health Consortium). Until March 2021, you can refer young people with long-term conditions to us for up to 10x 1 hour sessions, to help improve their wellbeing.

The 1:1 or small group to sessions are bespoke and structured around the young person’s likes and wants, based on the principles of “What Matter to Me”. This may be song-writing, learning an instrument, singing, rapping, music tech and computer game soundtracks. No previous musical experience is necessary.

  • Accessible to all – no musical experience required
  • Sessions tailored to individual needs & creative goals
  • Overseen by a HCPC-registered Music Therapist
  • We make all the arrangements and book the sessions
  • Available face-to-face or online

Music has repeatedly been found to be beneficial for mental and emotional wellbeing. And in a 2019 Youth Music survey, 85% of 7-17 year olds in England reported that music made them feel happy.

“I struggle with the physical side of chronic pain – but when I come to the music group, I can do way more than I can at home. I can stand for hours, I can walk around…I can basically feel more normal again. My physical pain can often lead to depression. But when I arrive at the music group, that goes away – at least for that one hour.” – Harry, 19

There are currently 6 remaining free referral places available, until March 2021.
For more information and to refer one of your patients, please contact michaela.law1@nhs.net

Read some case studies of the difference music can make to young people

B, 11 – anxiety about changing school

B was approaching the end of Year 6. Having had some difficult experiences with her peers, she was feeling very anxious about moving to a new secondary school. 

One of B’s teachers was looking for ways to help her with this anxiety when they heard about our work. They referred B to our ‘Transitions’ programme.

I spent an hour with B to get to know her, to understand what she was struggling with and to see what kind of music-making she might be interested in.

It was quickly apparent that she needed some tools to manage her anxiety. Her confidence was very low, and her dread at the looming change of school was clear. But the opportunity to make music, on her own terms, in a one-to-one setting, did appeal to her. Together, we identified some activities that she was excited about and that I knew could be beneficial.

We agreed to meet weekly for 1 hour sessions (online via Zoom because of covid restrictions). 

Initially, B was quiet, choosing mostly to make tracks on GarageBand and feeling nervous about more ‘out-loud’ activities like singing. But, as we started writing songs together, B began to find her voice and her confidence visibly grew. 

She loves Harry Styles so we took the chords and melody from one of his songs and wrote our own which we called ‘Worry Monster ‘. B recorded and filmed herself singing – and even took part in making a music video for the song via Zoom. 

As the weeks passed, B became more and more verbal: her lyrical contributions and ideas increased, she was vocally enthusiastic about the upcoming sessions, she felt at ease to be chatty with me…and, starting with the lyrics of her songs, we were able to open up conversations about her anxiety. 

Songwriting became a place where B could be comfortable in her own skin. It gave her a focus that she could devote her full attention to and enjoy unreservedly – and a means for her to grapple with and articulate the worries that were weighing on her.

 In September, B made the move to her new school – and found that she was actually able to relish the experience. She was glad to make a group of new friends there. And she continues to use music as an outlet – a tool to help deal with her anxiety.

S, 12 – chronic asthma

S suffers with chronic asthma. For several years, she’s been in and out of hospital frequently. This situation impacts most aspects of her life, including her family relationships.

In the hope of giving her some respite, one of the doctors working with S referred her to our programme for young people with long-term health conditions.

One technique that can help significantly with respiratory conditions is breathing exercises – but young people often struggle to learn them, or to rigorously adopt them as a habit. We use singing to bridge that gap: to make breathing exercises memorable and even enjoyable. 

So I asked S to pick out a selection of songs that she liked, and we learned to sing them together. We started using these songs as S’s way to regulate and extend her breathing.

As we worked together, S developed her own robust, fun and personalised breathing exercise regime. She was able to take this routine away and practice it independently. Because they’re rooted in her own ideas, S has been able to remember and pass on the exercises that she’s been involved in creating.

One week, S came to the session and told me eagerly that she had been able to teach the exercises to someone else who struggles with asthma: her mum.

Singing has made a big difference to S’s life. She can now keep the discipline of her breathing exercises. When we sing together, she is able to hold notes for longer. She reports feeling better, confirming a noticeable difference in her wellbeing. And it’s even been a point of connection with her family.

C, 20 – persistent pain

C struggles with persistent and chronic pain. Because of her condition, she was isolated and finding life challenging.

After one of her hospital visits, an NHS Pain Consultant referred C to a pilot music group that we had set up specifically for young people with chronic pain.

C came to the group with enthusiasm and an open mind but with low confidence. However, as the group developed, so did her creative contributions. Her voice became stronger and her confidence grew. 

When lockdown happened and the group could no longer meet in-person, we started doing online one-to-one sessions with C – and there we saw her songwriting really take off. 

She also became more and more involved with The Music Works and started to contribute to the development of the organisation.

The music group gave C a group of peers to interact with, combating her isolation and instantly improving her quality of life. And, since her time working with our music leaders, C has gone from strength to strength. 

She has written and recorded a number of her own songs. She has joined The Music Works’ youth advisory group. She has become a young trustee for The Music Works, and she has started a college course. She’s found a passion for spoken word performance. We now regularly get to see her contributing ideas, cracking jokes, celebrating successes – full of life and making her voice heard.

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