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Good mental health is vital for all of us. We know that many musicians will have a mental health problem during their career, which has only increased since the COVID-19 pandemic.

Practising techniques and exercises that support mental health should be part of the weekly schedule in the same way as fitness training.

Suggested techniques include:

  • Breathing
  • Mindfulness
  • Mediation
  • Journalling
  • Yoga

Your student should find a technique that works for them. As well as helping with overall mental health, a well-practised technique can be drawn on when symptoms feel worse.

Research (Winnicott 1960) shows that children who have been taught to be “good” from an early age can develop a false external self and this can continue into adulthood with no time to explore their true self and a growing fear of revealing less “favourable” traits. Knowing who we are is directly connected to self-confidence and self-esteem. It enables us to live with purpose and direction and develop good relationships with others. Teaching can give a sense of what a “good” musician is and encourage students to develop their sense of self.

In order to be confident we need healthy self-esteem, but many performers are harshly self-critical and have a negative dialogue going on their heads. As a teacher, you have a powerful role to play in helping students to reframe their negative thinking more positively. Thought diaries, such as the example below, can be helpful.

Date One negative thought about myself More positive and helpful thoughts to balance this out Reframing my original thought more positively
Example I never stick to new exercise regimes

I did run a half marathon last year

Are the exercise regimes over ambitious?

How long do I expect to follow new exercise regimes?

What level of fitness do I want to achieve?
If the exercise regime is designed for my needs and achievable, I can stick to it

I work best with goal orientated exercise routines

I maintain a reasonable level of fitness for my needs

Getting help for mental health problems is very important. If you think your student might be struggling, ask them how they are doing. The BAPAM factsheet Mental Health Support in a Crisis gives advice on what to do in this situation.