Note: Songwriting and music have both been instrumental in helping me overcome multiple emotional, mental health traumas. This particular blog post discusses one mental health focus: depression, but also touches on a number of other benefits from songwriting, songs about depression, and music as a whole.
If you're more of a visual/audio person, check out my TEDx Talk discussing how songwriting saved my life after having had ten brain surgeries: one of the many traumas I personally experienced as a young person.
Granted: my trauma looked different to many people in my social circles, but trauma isn't about comparing scars. We all wear trauma differently, but that doesn't mean that there aren't some significant similarities in how it manifests itself. Depression, anxiety, self-inflicted pain, lack of hope, feeling left behind, panic.... these are some of the many ways in which many young people whom have experienced trauma are left feeling.
For me, however, my trauma began at the age of four months - before I even knew what trauma was.
Technology is a beautiful thing, and not a day goes by that I'm not grateful for the mere fact that this technology was available when I was born. It's honestly saved my life. However, when hormonal changes occur [hello, puberty]: lumps can form in the CSF causing blockages in the shunt.
So, while my first brain surgery was at the age of 4months: by the time I was 12, I'd had 24 surgeries - ten on my brain.
But there was a light.
During my longest stint in hospital, my elementary school teacher made me a cassette tape of songs to listen to when depressed - she named the mixtape: "Happy, Healthy Music" featuring songs from Blue Swede, Vonda Shepard, and, of course, the Spice Girls. Now, by today's standards, that list would probably look more like Twenty One Pilots, Linkin Park, Ed Sheeran, Carrie Underwood, and Alessia Cara, [and I'm here for it - Linkin Park was definitely one of my go-to bands that I turned to when I was in my darkest moments], but the fact remains: music is a hugely important part of one's mindset, mental health, and emotional health.
The question is: how are we going to use it?
I mentioned before that trauma looks different on all of us.
As such, the music I started listening to moved away from the "happy, healthy music", and more towards songs about depression. Lyrics about dark times, suicidal thoughts, and overwhelming emotions started to make home in my head...
... and then I learned about the alchemy of songwriting.
Songwriting is such a powerful tool for alchemy - turning anxiety into discovering your inner fight. Your teenagers' songs about depression can be turned into lyrics about resilience, overcoming anxiety, and positive relationships with friends, family and the broader community.
Let's look at some examples.
Breathe Me - Sia
Day'N'Nite - Kid Cudi
Zero - Imagine Dragons
Lovely - Billie Eilish and Khalid
Mad World - Tears for Fears
u - Kendrick Lamar
Gravity - John Mayer
Weightless - Natasha Beddingfield
Scars to Your Beautiful - Alessia Cara
Fight Song - Rachel Platten
Rise Up - Andra Day
Last Hope - Paramore
And while these songs about depression - and overcoming depression - are powerful: the power behind equipping your teenager with the means to find and utilize the right words for themselves to express, understand and - ultimately - overcome their depression, anxiety and dark times.
In other words: the lyrics of Numb - Linkin Park, and Breathe Me - Sia are their lyrics: relatable, sure, but not authentically in alignment with your teenager's reality. In order for your teen to truly work through their depression: they need to be able to find their authentic verbiage. In order for your teenager to understand and overcome their anxiety: they need to be able to break down the multitude of overwhelming emotions they're feeling, and songwriting is an effective way to do this.
In order to write a well-structured song, one of the key tricks is to "Keep It Simple, Superstar". For this reason, each song's lyrics need to be focused on one key issue. Whether it's a song about
wanting to cry
losing a friend
.... it's important to keep each song directed towards a specific topic. By doing this: the songwriter [ie. your teenager] can start to recognize that while life can feel like it's too much: when you break everything down: life suddenly starts to feel more manageable.
As Will Smith says: just one brick at a time.
As Jordin Sparks says: one step at a time
As I say: Keep It Simple, Superstar.
Because we're not alone
The trick is to make sure that the music your teenager is resonating, and leading with is their song. Their truth. Their lyrics.