In November 2018, figures were released by NHS Digital detailing the number of children and young people in the UK with mental health issues. 1 in 9 children aged 5 – 15 are now reported as having a ‘mental health disorder’ (classified by the NHS as emotional, behavioural, hyperactive or other), a rise from 1 in 10 children in 2004. When young people up to age 19 are included (so all children aged 5 – 19), as many as 1 in 8 children have been identified as having at least one mental health disorder. More information can be found on the Mental Health Foundation’s website.

The statistics show, on a very basic level, that young people’s mental health is an increasing concern. Music can often be a good way to connect with young people in a way that feels familiar and comfortable to them. It can be a relaxing distraction, or may encourage them to talk about themselves and their concerns, allowing trained staff to better provide support for them going forwards.

In response to this, Yorkshire Youth and Music has created our 'Music and Mental Health' project. The project aims to:

  • support young people through a project that delivers this important work, specifically aiming to improve the health and well being of the children involved
  • consolidate our learning and experiences with mental health issues
  • share important findings from our projects with the arts sector as a whole

It is Children's Mental Health Week in early February each year, and "Feeling Good" (our project with young people in the region), has also begun in-person sessions once again after a hiatus due to COVID. Essentially, the project uses music as a tool for young people to explore their emotions, both light and dark, within a supportive and safe framework.

Yorkshire Youth & Music facilitators are no strangers to working with young people who need some form of support with their mental health. In our projects in Youth Justice settings, we encounter young people experiencing a range of mental health issues. Using the skills and knowledge we learned with these young people, it seemed like a logical next step to create a project that specifically targets mental health problems in childhood and adolescence. We chose to do this via the services that are offered to them through the NHS: specifically CAMHS (or Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services), a nationwide service.

In a pilot project in 2018, we worked alongside CAMHS in Sheffield to provide music based sessions for children and young people accessing their services across the summer holidays. The sessions were a success, with NHS staff reporting that they had seen a marked improvement in attendee engagement levels: an increased willingness to join in, and interact with musicians and their peers, even over such a short engagement period.

Because the results were so positive, and because we have also had extensive experience of supporting children with mental health issues in our other projects, we decided to develop the pilot into a fully-rounded project: continuing sessions in Sheffield with the potential for sessions in other centres across the region. Rebecca Denniff was the lead facilitator on the "Feeling Good" project at the Becton Centre in Sheffield for it’s first two years.

Rebecca created a series of online videos to support young people with mental health struggles (and the adults who live and  work with them) featuring various musical tasks that also allow for a deeper exploration into young people's feelings. This is the introduction - click the link on the video to find the rest via our YouTube channel:

In the spirit of sharing our findings using music to engage young people struggling with their mental health, our Director, Gail Dudson, spoke at the Young People, Mental Health and the Arts conference at the University of Leeds in June 2019, detailing our work with young people in Youth Justice settings, with a focus on how music could help to tackle their issues.

Since September 2023, the project has developed and is now running successfully in three settings: Becton Centre, Chapel House and Sheffield Childrens’ Hospital, with music leader Chris Morris and assistant music leader Billie Johnson. 

You can read further updates and case studies from the project here.

If you would like more information about our work with young people in challenging circumstances, please feel free to get in touch.