Music, Mental Health, and Addressing a Cause Through Song

mental health

mental health

By Matt O’ Donnell and Steve Paix

Creativity is an important part of mental health and well-being. Having a way to process thoughts and feelings through music is useful because it allows you to be comfortable with a level of abstraction: you don’t have to spell everything out.

In this way, writing music becomes an incredibly powerful tool to help distraught people work through issues. When a person writes a song, it is informed by his or her personal life journeys and observations of the world: one’s highs and lows, and the mundane in between. Music making has its own points of elation and desperation when you feel the inspiration will not come. It is full of problem solving, setting goals, losing sleep, going down dead ends, and stumbling upon solutions out of the blue.

The process of making a record parallels many things in life: the trials and tribulations, the thrill of creating, clarity of thought. And in our work across digital media — music, albums, videos — we’ve experienced the power of the creative process to help process emotion; and we’ve ended up doing a lot of work in the area of mental health. Not only through writing music, but also sharing music and reaching out to people through song can help ease someone’s pain.

We are the songwriters and mainstays of Tarmac Adam, and our newest single makes it very clear what the message of our music is, “Reach out. Connect. Bear the burden. Make a difference. Rise above.”

How You Can Help Someone Who Is Going Through Something Distressful

Often our songs have a verse that focuses on some of the challenges we all face in relationships or some other situation — that sense of doubt or powerlessness, or even loss. We’ll then tend to use the chorus to provide a sense of new insight, resolution, moving forward.

We like to think of songs as having the capacity to look at things in a fluid manner — they can move from idea to idea, place to place, feeling to feeling. Songs provide an opportunity for transformation — from hopeless to hopeful, chaos to order, doubt to confidence.

Everyone in their lives has heard a song that just seems to have said the right thing at the right time — summed up how you were feeling, or what you were thinking about or going through. And it sticks, forever. That’s not something that you can necessarily engineer as a songwriter, you just have to write honestly, and with empathy, and maybe you’ll make something that ends up being “that song” for someone in your audience.

Any of us can help someone who is going through a difficult time. Listen, reflect back to them what they’re saying, help them break negative thinking cycles, direct them towards professional help and support them through the process. Remind them that things never stay the same — they always change, and when they do they offer opportunities for growth.

Songwriters have some other unique ways they can make positive contributions to the lives of others. A song can help externalize an inner struggle. Music is a great way to connect: playing music together, listening to music and talking about music with people you care about, writing songs with them, sharing playlists. All of these things point to the great power of music to connect us to others and to help us process what we feel.

Music makes us all better people.

+ Read more on Flypaper: Dive deeper into the connections between music and the brain with our interview with music psychologist, Dr. Victoria Williamson.

Addressing a Cause Through Song

Songwriters write about how they see the world, and often how it should, or could be. We don’t want to come across as being preachy, or too earnest, or pretend like we have all the answers — people should be encouraged to make up their own minds, but we do want chances to share our viewpoints.

And to amplify those views, that message, songwriters can align themselves with an organization that shares one’s vision of a better world.

In Tarmac Adam, if a song contains a good, universal message then we will think of who that message might work for. It doesn’t happen the other way around.

If we think an organization or particular cause might relate to what the song is about, we might decide to reach out to them directly and offer the song for them to use. Or we might simply highlight an issue in our own promotion of the song — maybe use it as a talking point for an interview, for example.

Lately we’ve been trying to focus our songwriting on issues relating to mental health imbalance and depression, so we also like to be a bit playful and ironic in our music videos, so as to liven up the delivery.

3 Ways Songwriters Can Address Public Causes Through Music

1) Research public health campaigns or other areas where people are trying to make a change in the world. Find a subject that resonates with you or someone you know.

2) Try writing from personal experience. Maybe your life has been influenced by a particular issue, or one of your friends or family. That might point you in the right direction.

3) Promote the connection between the issues you care about and your songs via social media, in interviews, in blog posts, etc. to make people aware and help your music reach the community it’s most likely to impact.

tarmac adam
Photo by Kyle Neaves

Tarmac Adam was formed in Melbourne, Australia, releasing its debut record Handheld Torch in 2003. Emerging out of the Melbourne indie music scene, singer/guitarist Matt O’Donnell eventually formed the full band, but it remains anchored by Matt and co-writer Steve Paix. Their third and most recent album In Place is out now and encourages listeners to “Reach out. Connect. Bear the burden. Make a difference. Rise above.”


Ryan Lott: Designing Sample-Based Instruments

Join our Mailing List

We offer creative courses, articles, podcast episodes, and one-on-one mentorship for curious musicians. Stay up to date!


I’m Not Saying Aliens Wrote This “House of Cards” Cue, But…

We break down the super hip “fourthi-fifthiness” sounding interval leap in this downright gorgeous cue from the “House of Cards” score.


How to Play With Meaning in Your Songwriting

Moving your listener through a broken narrative is an art, and you can master it with just a few simple tricks. Read on, dear songwriters…


The Surprising Origins of the Bagel Bites Theme Music

An exhaustive history of the catchiest ad jingle of all time. It goes so much deeper than we could’ve ever imagined and we break it ALL down.