The Magic of Music in a Psychiatric Hospital

Music is magic.

Some of the most beautiful moments in my admissions to psychiatric hospitals have involved music.

What made me happy was communal sharing of peoples’ music libraries, connected to a portable speaker, in the smoker’s courtyard. It made me ecstatic. My friend, a fellow patient, rapping Vanilla Ice’s, “Ice Ice Baby” with 100 percent accuracy. That sight is the eight wonder of the world, I assure you. Coming into the lounge and hearing blues blaring through the speakers as people tried their best to get through the day. Hearing an elderly patient, Wendy, playing a classical piece on the piano as I drifted down the hallway. Her aged fingers telling a story I knew I’d never fully know or understand.

There are too many moments to mention, but they add up and become a signifier of what helps people ease their struggles. The Dire Straits, Van Morrison, Miles Davis, Ed Sheeran, The Hollies, One Direction, Paul Kelly. Song after song, artist after artist, connected us in ways our words couldn’t. At 7 a.m. bleary eyed and preparing ourselves for another day, we’d sit in silence and someone would pick a song. There’s something beautiful about a group of practical strangers from all walks of life sitting around a phone, cigarettes and mugs in hand just… listening. Nick Cave’s smooth voice filling the air as we waited for another challenging day.

In art therapy, yesterday we spoke about the gap between art and words. The fact that art exists in a space where words can’t reach. That’s the very reason I do art therapy, because sometimes there aren’t any words in our spoken language to explain what you’re feeling or thinking. I think it’s the same with music. A certain string arrangement in Neil Diamond’s “Prologue” makes me feel the intrinsic connection I have to humanity. One note in Bowie’s “Life on Mars” makes my stomach drop so much, it makes me lose my breath. Artists put themselves into their music. Their emotions, thoughts, feelings, the things they couldn’t express in any other way. Sometimes we can all feel so different to each other, so isolated and “other.” But the connection that music brings out in people that says, “You’re not alone, I felt this too,” is life saving.

The biggest lesson I’ve learnt is it’s the little things. People say life is made up of a lot of little moments and a few big ones. I used to focus on the big ones, the ones that would send my anxiety spiraling into a panic attack. But I get it now. The little ones are so important. Charlie remembering you take decaf instead of regular. Mixing paints so an 80-year-old woman who wants to make art can, despite her painful arthritis. A cigarette handed out to someone struggling, a seat offered to another.

I’ll end this this on what I consider my Biggest Little moments.

In one of my past admissions I’d sometimes sit and smoke with a patient who had nothing. No iPod, no smartphone, no computer and give him his requested song of the day. I’ll never forget the gleeful look fought through his tired eyes as he was able to transport himself back to an easier time just for  or three or four minutes. He’d close his eyes and drift back to his 20-year-old self watching a live Skyhooks gig in a pub with his friends, rather than sitting on the concrete ground of a psych hospital. Time and time again, it was the most humbling experience to witness. Music plays with reality. It enhances it or eradicates it. It takes you somewhere or keeps you in the moment. It’s magic.

Follow this journey on Maddison Gray’s Blog.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via Orla

Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.

Related to Mental Health

A mom and her daughter walking through a park

Why I Won't Have ‘Mommy Guilt’ About My Mental Health

Mild anxiety and depression have always been a part of my life. I hid it well in my younger years; coping by using eating disorder behaviors to ease any feelings I didn’t like. I alternated between periods of binging and purging and restriction. As I got older, I began self-treating in other ways. I would [...]
woman working at computer in soft light

When I Spoke Up as a Mental Health Advocate and Got the Most Amazing Response

Recently I was asked to go a community mental health training since I had signed up to volunteer with a mental health organization. During the training, things kept being said by the participants or leaders that I felt perpetuated stigma or a stereotype about mental illness. I became extremely anxious and angry. I kept raising my hand [...]
splashing raindrops

3 Reasons My Mental Illness Is Like a Storm

I struggle with mental illness and have always been attracted to storms for some reason. Yes, you read that right. Storms. I know it sounds kind of weird, but I feel like I identify with them in a way. Somehow their chaos reflects the chaos in my head. I’m not exactly sure how it started, but [...]

To the Writer Who Called Mental Health Days a 'Sign of America's Wussification'

You might have seen it in the news this week: a woman tweeted out her CEO’s reply to an email about taking a mental health day, and it went viral. This story resonated with so many people because 1) the woman, Madalyn Parker, was refreshingly honest about why she needed a sick day, when many in her position would have [...]