Positive Living Newsletter

Finding Meaning through Music

Rachael Seamans
Rachael Seamans

I have spent the majority of my doctoral training working with college-aged individuals in university and college counselling centers. Although many college graduates reflect back on their time attending college with revery, students of today are experiencing suicidal ideation and self-harming behaviors at an increased rate. Suicide risk assessments, safety planning, and harm reduction have become increasingly important skills for any clinician working within college settings.

At the last two university counselling centers I have worked at, it was protocol that every student undergo a risk assessment and have a safety plan. On multiple occasions, students I have worked with have indicated music, musicians, and concerts as reasons for living and/or part of their safety plan. “I can’t end my life because I have to see [insert artist here] in concert” has become a very common response to the question “What makes life worth living?” Many safety plans include “listening to music.”

The idea of living for “external factors” has been long debated and critiqued amongst mental health professionals. People should find meaning within themselves and not their families, friends, partners, etc. The general consensus is that the latter is not permanent and could lead to disappointment. While this may be true, does that make our relationships any less powerful? For many individuals experiencing intense suicidal ideation, finding meaning within themselves can be extremely difficult, if not impossible. Oftentimes, this connection to external things is all someone has to hold onto.

Music has been an integral part of the human experience. Much of history was originally passed down across generations through song. Hymns and chants are often central in religious ceremonies. During birthdays we sing to celebrate the passing of another year. Music permeates nearly every aspect of life. How could it not be something that makes life worth living?

Songwriters have the unique ability with their lyrics to evoke intense human emotions and experiences, which is an art of making people feel less alone. When we can’t find the words to convey our agony, anger, and loneliness, we take solace in songs. When we can’t find it in ourselves to face our greatest fears or inner demons, we can usually find comfort in hearing–in songs–how others have overcome similar obstacles.

Music is cathartic. It allows us to experience a myriad of emotions and experiences. It allows us to feel connected with others and something greater than ourselves. So, take some advice from college students–cry it out to your favorite sad song, dance your heart out in your living room, or scream the words to your favorite song while driving in your car. Life can’t be so bad if we’re singing.