Innovative project in Gwent uses music to support young men’s mental health

Above: Dr Alex from ITV’s Love Island visits Hafal’s Project Evolve

Sometimes a shared interest can be the best way to bring people together and improve their wellbeing. That’s certainly the experience of Welsh charity Hafal.

Funded by Comic Relief, Hafal’s Project Evolve project uses music to engage with young males aged 14-20 who have experienced an episode of psychosis – or who are at risk of developing psychosis.

The project focuses on building confidence whilst developing key skills in an environment where young men can come together in a stigma-free, non-clinical setting to share their experiences, build supportive relationships and find ways to manage their symptoms – and, of course, enjoy a jam together.

Jason Tatton, a Recovery Practitioner at Hafal who runs Project Evolve throughout Gwent, said: “Project Evolve focuses on building confidence and self-esteem and helps support people in recovery and in their wellbeing.

“We use music as a tool to engage young people. I spend a lot of time talking to individuals about their music tastes and styles, their relationship with music and different songs. I offer lessons with instruments which gives young people the opportunity to express themselves through music and offload some of those things that they carry around in their minds. It gives them a chance to get it out, be creative and have that release.

“I’ve met some amazing and very talented young people. I feel blessed to be able to work with them through the medium of music and to be a part of their journey is incredible.”

One of the individuals benefitting by attending Project Evolve is Louis from Cardiff. Louis came to Hafal for some support and, given his passion for music, clicked with Jason straight away. Since attending the project Louis has gone from strength to strength, not only in his music but in making new friends and connecting with a community of like-minded people of his own age.

“I like all sorts of music… house music is my favourite,” Louis says. “I’ve been able to meet new friends with the same illness as me and people who are in the same situation. We all get along, we’re now in a little band and we’re playing this summer.

“When I met Jason he was so passionate about music so it inspired me to do more. It gives me positivity and a big release of energy and I feel brand new after a session. That’s why I wanted to do it, I wanted to change my life.”

The project was delighted to welcome a special guest to a project session at The Patriot in Crumlin, Caerphilly. Love Island’s Dr Alex George (known as “Dr Alex”), originally from Carmarthenshire, took time out of his busy schedule as an A&E doctor in London to see the excellent work for himself and witness the positive impact the project is having on clients’ mental health.

Alex said: “There’s a lot of pressure for young people to be a certain way, look a certain way and act a certain way. So it’s really nice to see Hafal projects like this supporting people who are struggling with their mental health, giving them a sense of community, letting them share their experiences and also supporting each other which is really, really important. We need to look after our mental health in this day of age as much as ever.

“I think music is therapeutic for everyone, regardless of your situation, your background and your age – and this setting is fantastic for the guys to get together, play music, enjoy and talk about things if they’re struggling as well.”

What the project demonstrates is that there are different ways to approach mental health. While a traditional service may suit some, harder-to-engage groups may benefit from projects which are based on a shared interest.

“By giving people the opportunity to connect through an activity they can all enjoy or a skill they can develop together, we can really improve wellbeing and promote recovery,” says Alun Thomas, Hafal’s Chief Executive.

“When it comes to men, who traditionally may have found it harder to open up about their mental health, building services around activities like music, football or even “street therapy” may just reap the most benefits.”

Matt Pearce