#IAMWHOLE, MUSIC 4 MENTAL HEALTH & the power of music to activate social change

#IAMWHOLE was created in 2016 in response to a brief from NHS Brighton and Hove, with the objective of increasing awareness of their mental health services and breaking down stigma, so that young people could feel more empowered to ask for help when they need it.

Prior to this campaign, their mental health ‘outreach’ amounted to little more than a sad pile of leaflets in a GP’s surgery. They wanted to find a way to really connect with a young audience to create tangible change.

I instinctively felt that music was the way to do this, understanding the universality of popular music, it’s ability to reach a diverse range of people, and its power to transmit messages which can in turn shape behaviour. Together with Jordan Stephens, one half of pop duo Rizzle Kicks, we developed a campaign around a music video, and so #IAMWHOLE was born.

#IAMWHOLE was launched on World Mental Health Day, and in partnership with the world’s oldest youth charity, YMCA, we recorded a music video to Jordan’s song ‘WHOLE’. The video featured fifty young people who have battled mental health problems and introduced the campaign symbol of a circle drawn on the palm of the hand, a simple visual signifier which helped our message to travel.

The #IAMWHOLE campaign challenges stigma and harmful language by creating a unified voice for all who have suffered or who are suffering with their mental health, and the medium of music is an incredible way to build that unity within a community. Recognising one’s own experience in a song lyric can be a transformative thing for a young person, instantly communicating the message that they are not alone.

The response to #IAMWHOLE in year one completely exceeded even our wildest expectations, with support from celebrities such as Ed Sheeran, James Corden and Liam Gallagher. The campaign generated 222 pieces of national and regional UK media coverage and made over 120 million impressions with an advertising value equivalent of over half a million pounds. The hashtag ##IAMWHOLE became the number one trending topic on World Mental Health Day.

It very quickly became clear that through music, we had the chance to reach vulnerable communities and create a genuine cultural and behaviour shift, fighting the stigma surrounding mental health. So in 2017 we partnered with the band Nothing But Thieves to create an original music video for their song ‘broken machine’, written by lead singer Conor Mason about his own struggles with mental health. Once again, this strategy proved hugely popular with phenomenal reach across digital channels.

And so we began thinking about how we could harness the undeniable power of music in a real world setting, speaking directly to audiences and spreading awareness of the campaign. This November we held the first ever Music 4 Mental Health event at the Roundhouse, London. It was a groundbreaking new initiative that brought together music artists, individuals and communities through a concert raising much needed funds for mental health projects that support young people, aged 11–24.

Music 4 Mental Health Launched at the Roundhouse on 18th November 2018

Featuring some of the biggest names in British music (Ed Sheeran, Anne-Marie, Olly Murs, Ella Eyre, James Arthur, Professor Green and more) the project was a collaboration between #IAMWHOLE and leading youth and mental health charities, CALM, The Mix and YMCA.

The live event was an extraordinary night which was a perfect example of the power of music to unite young people around an issue. We made 47 million impressions on Twitter alone on the evening of the event, and were trending on Twitter and Snapchat. We continue to compile the statistics on audience reach across multiple social platforms, press and television, and will publish a report on this in due course.

Working on #IAMWHOLE and Music 4 Mental Health, I have gained an understanding of the wider music scene and I am deeply disturbed by some of the statistics I have encountered. The fact that the UK has lost 35% of its music venues in the past decade should be a cause of grave concern to all of us. Music venues are an integral part of local communities, and I firmly believe that coming together as a society to enjoy popular music is at the very least enriching, and in some cases, life saving. It’s a resource that ought to be protected by government funding.

So to learn that for every pound spent on popular music by the Arts Council, eight pounds is spent on classical music and opera was a statistic that I found genuinely staggering. To state the obvious, popular music is popular, which is what gives it its power. And through running both #IAMWHOLE and Music 4 Mental Health, I have seen first hand how successful it can be at delivering powerful messages. The Arts Council must redress the balance and invest in the type of music that young people actually connect with.

Perhaps the most troubling insight I have gained into how we value music in our society is regarding the steady decline of music education in schools. With STEM subjects now favoured over arts subjects, many young people in this country have zero access to music, and we are undoubtedly poorer as a society because of that. With some schools now charging pupils for out of hours music lessons, we risk music becoming the preserve of the rich.

It isn’t about creating the next generation of trumpet players, or finding the next Adele (though wouldn’t that be wonderful?) In the UK, 20% of adolescents experience a mental health problem in any given year, and music is a massive outlet that is proven to have a transformative impact on mental wellbeing. To cut it from schools is to cut a vital, accessible means of connecting to and understanding the world.

Music is proven to stimulate the brain in amazing ways, and so it’s frustrating to find that decision makers are not embedding common sense into their policy in this regard. Music is a low risk, non invasive intervention with massive potential to transform the experience of a young person suffering with their mental health. So rather than consistently cutting music out of public life, we should be looking at music based health interventions, recommended by health professionals and funded by funding bodies.

Thank you for taking the time to read this report. I hope that the insights of #IAMWHOLE and Music 4 Mental Health can convince you of the need for a drastic shift in thinking with regard to music in public life.

We’re creating a movement, and this is only the beginning. Join us and help change the conversation, change the story, change the stats.