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Hip Hop Catharsis

To be honest, hip-hop isn’t our thing. Neither is rap.

For teenagers right now, though, this seems to be the music that matters. Rap and hip-hop are big. But really, is this suitable listening material for those experiencing mental health difficulties?

You might, perhaps, suspect not. The lyrics often present problems for parents. The language can be an issue. The content might seem unpalatable. You could be concerned about the influence that exposure could have on the vulnerable. Your fears might be unfounded.

Your first instinct might be to ban such music. But UK researchers believe that, rather than harming those susceptible to mental health problems, listening to rap and hip-hop could have certain benefits.

Titled Hip Hop Psych, those behind a project being developed at Cambridge have suggested that music could be used to aid those undergoing treatment for mental health difficulties.

This is based upon the concept that, due to its introspective lyrics, rap music in particular gives those listening an increased sense of self-knowledge and empowerment. It’s an interesting theory.

Because certain rappers and hip-hop artists hail from deprived urban areas, where poverty, violence and drug use can be rife, such things are rooted in their songs and the language used. That these are all issues that are, as a general rule, connected with mental health problems is no accident.

In being exposed to them through music, young people can gain an intrinsic awareness that, researchers believe, can enable them to confront their own psychological difficulties.

‘There’s so much more to hip-hop than the public realises,’ explains Becky Inkster, a leading neuroscientist at Cambridge University’s department of psychiatry. ‘It is rich in references to psychiatric illnesses that have not been explored properly, which could be of enormous benefit to patients. Hip-hop in general, and rap in particular, often carry messages that are much more complex than is generally appreciated. That makes it an ideal medium for helping individuals understand their own psychological problems and for finding ways to deal with them’.

Examples cited include Professor Green’s Lullaby, a song about the rapper’s struggle to cope with depression after his father killed himself, and numerous Eminem tracks that focus on the difficulties that troubled teenagers often encounter whilst attempting to fit in. In one High School in the United States, a Kendrick Lamar album that details the rapper’s efforts to leave behind the drug and gang cultures rife in his neighbourhood has even been added to the syllabus.

No-one is suggesting that such a thing could happen here. But it does seem as though this is something that might be worth investigating further.

Can listening to such music be cathartic? The evidence thus far ponders that there might be benefits for those facing schizophrenic illness and depression. The next step for the Hip Hop Psych team is to encourage patients to start writing about their own problems, thoughts and feelings, in rap/hip-hop form, in an attempt to aid their therapy.

This is the crux, because tackling mental health problems is so often about encouraging communication and getting those affected to open up. Young people can find it difficult to express themselves. If hip-hop helps, then perhaps it’s to be cautiously encouraged after all.

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