Hip-Hop demystifying mental illness

Hip-hop culture is being used as a vehicle for raising awareness about mental health at an event on Thursday 17 October, 7.30pm at Mama Stone’s in Exeter.

Although the lyrics of hip hop music are often associated with swearing, rapping about money and the exploitation of women, there are also rappers whose unfiltered narration goes beyond this by describing the harsh realities of their world and the coping mechanisms employed by some young people. The music can be rich with references, for example, to addiction, psychosis, bipolar disorder and the effects of urbanicity, poor nutrition and destructive parental influences relating to childhood maltreatment in the absence of positive role models.  

The University of Exeter’s Centre for Medical History is hosting an evening event with the co-founders of ‘HIP HOP PSYCH’, consultant psychiatrist Dr Akeem Sule and clinical neuroscientist Dr Becky Inkster to support their ongoing engagement with mental health experts and the wider public to challenge stereotypes by removing the stigma surrounding mental health and hip-hop. For this event, they will be focusing on dissecting and analysing a range of hip-hop lyrics in order to demystify mental health. In doing this they, seek to disarm the boundaries between psychiatry, the humanities and hip-hop culture. Their approach enables them to gain a deeper awareness into gang culture and allows them to get closer to the reality of the daily struggles and risk factors which people with mental health problems face.

Dr Inkster said:“Another one of our goals beyond dissecting hip hop lyrics for mental health references is to work with people to write lyrics that are informed by mental health as a means for helping them to communicate and understand their feelings.  The fact that people are trying to communicate through hip-hop music and culture is an incredible opportunity for us to listen. We will work with hip-hop artists and ex-gang members who have survived high risk environments and others. Hip Hop Psych is here to translate these important, lost messages from hard-to-reach individuals in order to help liberate those shackled by their mental health situations so that their voices can be heard.”

The evening of discussion, music and dance is part of a series of events linked to the Centre for Medical History at the University of Exeter and supported by the Wellcome Trust, to facilitate the sharing of academic research with the wider public. Professor Mark Jackson will be introducing HIP HOP PSYCH,which links closely with a number of research projects in the Centre. Professor Jackson has recently completed a large multi-disciplinary project on the history of ‘stress’ and enduring concerns about its effects on mental and physical health, and Dr Ali Haggett is currently investigating the history of masculinity and mental health. Her research emphasises the importance of openness and recognition of psychological symptoms, particularly in young men. Dr Haggett said: “Psychological illnesses, such as depression and anxiety, have historically been under-diagnosed in men, who often present with complex psychosomatic symptoms and self-medicate with alcohol and drugs.  Men are three times more likely than women to commit suicide, yet women are more likely to be diagnosed with depression. In finding new and novel ways to cultivate awareness and remove the stigma surrounding mental health issues, the work of Drs Inkster and Sule speaks directly to ongoing research at the Centre for Medical History and the Centre for Mood Disorders.”

Just4Funk productions, an Exeter based hip-hop dance organisation will perform at HIP HOP PSYCH which seeks to demystify mental illness with beats and rhymes. The use of hip-hop culture in supporting and encouraging young people to express themselves, is something that, Director, Matthew Macklin of Just4Funk is familiar with, having started teaching break dance to young people in referral units.  He said: “The students often suffer with lack of confidence, low self-awareness, motivation and violent emotions. I believe that breaking (break dancing) can be a way of dealing with these issues. This is unsurprising when you think that it grew out of one of the most deprived ghettos in history where people would have had a range of emotional problems mainly stemming from poverty and oppression.”

It is also important to promote awareness of mental health issues among students who are starting university, leaving home for the first time - and to returners who are under increasing academic pressure preparing for job-seeking in a highly competitive market.  As part of the University’s new ‘Grand Challenges’ programme where first year students are encouraged to work together with leading experts to solve twenty-first-century challenges – a new theme ‘No health without mental health?’ will be run by the Centre for Medical History. 

The HIP HOP PSYCH event is free-of-charge, open to members of the public who are over 16 years of age, and it comes with a parental advisory, explicit content warning. It starts at 7.30pm, Mama Stone’s, Mary Arches Street, Exeter EX4 3BA.

Date: 14 October 2013

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