Hip hop takes on mental health

Hip hop takes on mental health

What does hip hop have to do with mental health? According to new research published in The Lancet Psychiatry journal, the answer may surprise you.

Two researchers from U.K.-based University of Cambridge recently launched a project called HIP HOP PSYCH that hopes to raise awareness about mental health. The goal of the project is to use hip hop to help people improve their mental health. The initiative also aims to address issues of stigma toward mental illness and the need for diversity within the field of psychiatry.

“We believe that hip hop, with its rich, visual narrative style can be used to make therapies that are more effective for specific populations and can help patients with depression to create more positive images of themselves, their situations and their future,” said project co-founder Dr. Akeem Sule, a consultant psychiatrist, in a statement.

The lyrics to hip hop songs often convey the issues that many marginalized people face, including key risk factors for mental illness. These lyrics also offer hope to listeners and a means of breaking free of such conditions as poverty, crime and drugs, which can contribute to mental illness.

Lyrics from The Notorious BIG’s song Juicy help illustrate Dr. Sule and his co-founder Dr. Becky Inkster’s point:

Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis
When I was dead broke, man I couldn’t picture this
50-inch screen, money green leather sofa
Got two rides, a limousine with a chauffeur
Phone bill about two G’s flat
No need to worry, my accountant handles that
And my whole crew is loungin’
Celebration every day, no more public housin’

These lyrics model the positive imagery technique, which is a form of therapy where patients are encouraged to use the power of their imagination to help them through tough times such as bipolar episodes and depression. The researchers believe that integrating hip hop into psychotherapies will help psychologists rethink how they approach treatment and make it more relevant.

Co-founders Doctors Sule and Inkster, a clinical neuroscientist at the University of Cambridge, also hope that the project will help encourage medical students to choose psychiatry as a specialty. Over the past 25 years, there has been a low retention rate among those training to be psychiatrists. Sule and Inkster believe that demonstrating hip hop’s relevance to psychiatry will help recruit mental health workers from more diverse ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.

“It’s been about forty years since hip hop first began in the ghettos of New York City, and it has come a long way since then, influencing areas as diverse as politics and technology. Now we hope to add medicine to the list,” said Inkster.

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  1. Very interesting study on how hip-hop music has a positive influence to treat patients with mental illness.

  2. I find this to be very disturbing to say Hip Hop is a positive influence for patients with mental illnesses. With there being so many Hip Hop/Rap lyrics that portray gangs, abuse, racial biases, and mysogyny. This statement can’t be completely factual for all of the genre.

    • Hi, Susan,

      I don’t think the co-founders meant that all hip hop songs would be appropriate for use in treating mental illness. I think they just wanted practitioners to recognize that it may actually have a place and be particularly relevant in certain instances. I hope that makes sense.

  3. Many people use music to clear their minds, relax, etc. It is interesting to see mental health benefits of hip hop music.

  4. Nikki,
    Thanks so much for this great article! Mental and emotional well-being has been connected to music for generations, just think of the hymns sung in various religous and spiritual services. It would follow, then, that any genre of music that employs positive imagery would be a spirit-lifter!

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health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.