Wednesday, May 27, 2015

10 Reasons A Capella Music is Good for Your Mental Health

Guest Post by Emily Alvarez

“One good thing about music, is when it hits you, you feel no pain.” –Bob Marley

I am someone who appreciates and loves a capella music on a higher level than a normal person. With the new “Pitch Perfect 2” just out and popularity of a capella music, I thought I’d write about how a capella is good for mental health.

For those that don’t know what a capella is, a capella means without instrumental accompaniment. While it means to not have instrumental accompaniment, many a capella groups use their voices to create the sound of instruments. A capella has gained traction in the last couple of years with the TV show “The Sing Off”, where popular group Pentatonix started, and “Pitch Perfect” doing so well in theaters. A capella isn’t just enjoyed by music people anymore.

Music has been proven to have a positive effect on bodies—both mental and physical. So why can’t a capella music? Here are 10 reasons why a capella music is good for the body.

1. Reduce Stress

Photo from Google Images
That big “ahhhh” you feel while listening to music? That’s your body releasing biochemical stress reducers. Music triggers the release of these stress reducers. So put some tunes on and de-stress.

My suggestion: “Destiny’s Child Medley” by The Harvard Opportunes

2. Relieve Symptoms of Depression

Photo from Google Images
When you’re feeling really down, music can actually pick you up. And music choice matters. Soothing sounds are uplifting and heavy metal or techno can actually make symptoms worse. A capella too, can be soothing, you just have to find the right song. Focus on one that doesn’t have a beat that really hits.

My suggestion: “Say Something” by Pentatonix.

3. Elevate Mood

Photo from Google Images
Ever notice how you can feel happy with upbeat music and sad with a slow sad song? That’s because music helps people get in touch with their emotions as well as put them in a better mood.

My suggestion: “Riff Off” from Pitch Perfect 2

4. Reduce Anxiety as Much as a Massage

Photo from Flickr user Naomi Shireen
Aren’t massages awesome? Especially with anxiety. Well I have even better news! Music’s effect on anxiety levels is similar to the effect of getting a massage. Which means you just found a cheaper way to lessen your anxiety!

My suggestion: “Fix You” by Straight No Chaser

5. Ease Pain

Photo from Google Images
Hate going to the dentist because you’re afraid of the pain you’re going to feel? Well, you’re not alone. Studies have shown that listening to soothing music can actually ease the perceived intensity of pain. So rock out and feel your pain lessen.

My suggestion: “Never Gonna Give You Up” by On The Rocks

6. Improve Sleep Quality

Photo by Flickr user Rogmarole
Whenever I have a hard time falling asleep, the first thing I do is turn on music. It’s always something with a soothing beat so I don’t have to pay too close attention to it. A capella is perfect for this. The musical blend is beautiful to listen to and gets me relaxed enough to fall asleep. Studies have actually shown that music can be used effectively to treat insomnia in college students.

My suggestion: “Apologize” by the University of North Carolina Loreleis

7. Help Perform Better in High-Stress Situations

Photo from Flickr user Tommy Hotvedt
Need to make the game winning shot? Need to ace that really really important test? Listening to upbeat tunes beforehand can actually help you perform well in high-stress situations. So pump the bass and make the shot.

My suggestion: “Word Championship Finale 1” by Das Sound Machine from Pitch Perfect 2

8. Improve Cognitive Performance

Photo from Flickr user Birth Into Being
I always find it easier to focus on something if I have music playing in the background. A capella is perfect for this because there aren’t any hard-hitting instruments, it’s all voices. If you like to listen to music while working too, then you’re in luck! Background music has been proven to enhance performance on cognitive tasks.

My suggestion: “Dirty Diana (ft. Femininity)” by AcaBelles

9. Elevate Mood While Driving

Photo from Flickr user Derrick Harvin
Do you have road rage? Do you hate driving because it puts you in a bad mood? Well, music might be able with that. Listening to music while driving can positively impact mood. So turn up your tunes and feel better.

My suggestion: “Brave” by BYU Vocal Point

10. Just Plain Makes You Happy!

Photo from Google Images
You know that one song that you absolutely love and can always put a smile on your face? That’s the effect music can have. Listening to the harmonies and vocal tricks always puts a smile on my face. Music just makes you happy!

My suggestion: “Natural Disaster” by Pentatonix


Ms. Alvarez graduated from San Jose State University with a degree in Public Relations and is now leading communication efforts at the Carson J Spencer Foundation. She coordinates all social media initiatives for this Denver-based nonprofit known for innovation in suicide prevention. In addition, she facilitates the outreach efforts to local and national media by creating and distributing press releases, blogs, and youtube videos. She has a passion for the mental health movement because her family has a history of mental health issues, and she had a close friend die by suicide when in high school. In 2009, she earned the highest award -- The Gold Award -- from the Girl Scouts and was in an honors fraternity in college.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Are You Hurt or Are You Injured: What Sports Legends Can Teach Us About Mental Health

Guest Post by Scott Drochelman

Are you hurt or are you injured? This is a question posed to thousands of boys growing up in the world of sports. Starting at a young age we learn how to answer this. Hurt means you can keep playing. Hurt means you can stay on the field. The question actually means, “Are you going to be a baby or are you going to play through it?”

Photo: Jamie Williams
The greats are heralded for their ability to play through pain. Herschel Walker, legendary Heisman Trophy winning running back, known for doing 1500 pushups and 3000 sit-ups every day of his life, once rushed for 150 yards after resetting a dislocated shoulder. Story upon legendary story have been told about Herschel Walker, but something fewer people know about Herschel Walker is that he was also diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder. He described playing in games where he had the sensation of all the pain manifesting itself in another player. The disorder allowed him to compartmentalize and distance himself from the pain he was experiencing.

I use Herschel Walker as an example for two reasons, one because I remember my dad teaching me about the legend of Hershel Walker as a boy and I still admire him to this day, and two because his condition speaks to a bigger issue when it comes to men seeking mental health help. We are taught to compartmentalize our pain and play through whatever ailment befalls us, often at our own peril.

Herschel Walker didn’t learn about his mental health condition until he was nearly 40, “My life was out of control. I was not happy, I was very sad, I was angry and I didn't understand why.” He became violent with people in his life. He found everything he had built crumbling around him, "I lost the person that was like everything to me," he said. "I lost my wife and that's totally, totally devastating to me." The disorder even led him to play Russian roulette on multiple occasions. It wasn’t until things got drastic that he finally went to seek help.

So what will it take? What will have to happen before men realize that there is no shame in getting help? That the same traits that allow us to push through difficult barriers can also turn on us and keep us from addressing the thing that is destroying us. It doesn’t have to be that way. There is help for the pain that you may be experiencing and if someone as legendary as Herschel Walker can admit that he needed help, no one is going to take my man card if I seek help myself.

So am I hurt or am I injured? There is no shame in admitting there are times when I am hurt and I need help because if I always play hurt, it’s only a matter of time before I am truly injured.

Visit to connect with helpful resources.



Scott is the Program Developer for the Carson J Spencer Foundation. Prior to working for CJSF, Scott worked in program development and delivery in child abuse prevention, at-risk youth programming and adult education. Scott develops curriculum for various programs and delivers trainings within the community. His passion for violence prevention is a result of his work with diverse populations and the desire to see a world without suicide. Scott holds a BA in Journalism/Multi-Media Communication from the University of Missouri.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Personal is Political: Survivorship, Mental Health, and Feminism

Guest Post by Jess Stohlmann-Rainey

In honor of mental health month, I wanted to spend some time explaining how mental health advocacy has evolved to be an integral component of my feminist practice.

The Personal

When I was in college, anyone who met me knew that I lived and breathed feminism. Most of my jobs and volunteer commitments were related to social justice and violence prevention, I taught Women’s Studies in graduate school, and I was a vocal advocate for change. Post-grad, I have continued carrying the feminist flag but have found new depth and complexity in both my approach and my expression of feminism. I have worked in two very different organizations, an LGBTQ youth center and an innovative suicide prevention organization, both of which have allowed me to practice feminism in very different ways. I have also grown personally, and my feminism has grown with me.
Photo Credit: Google Images

I have always believed that all oppression is deeply connected and that justice and liberation are processes that evolve over time as we learn to honor identities while untangling the webs of inequity that have held them in place. Because of this, all social justice work has been connected to feminism for me. This approach to feminism made it difficult for me to focus my passion on one path, and simultaneously opened doors for me to merge approaches to the work across fields.

One of the things that initially attracted me to the Carson J Spencer Foundation was the social justice lens through which we view our work. CJSF has provided me with a fecund landscape for me to explore just how personal the political can be. As a suicide attempt survivor and survivor of suicide loss, I spent quite a bit of time in my life trying to move on or move past these pivotal experiences. At CJSF, I was able to really develop my survivorship into something healthy and powerful. Here, being a survivor can be a part of my practice and my life, not something I try to tuck on a shelf or hide away. In fact, my deeply personal journey out of the darkness makes me uniquely qualified to do what I do. I get to live the New York Radical Feminist’s slogan, “the personal is political,” every day.

The experience of mental wellness, mental health conditions, and mental health stigma cannot be divested from our identities as gendered beings. When we look at the landscape of mental health, we cannot ignore the gendered nature of its impact. The available data on mental health can give us a snapshot of the reasons that mental health and recovery justice should be a part of feminist practice.

The Political

Before diving into the data, I think it is important to address that I am looking at information without the intersecting identities of sexual orientation, race, and socioeconomic status (SES). It is important to note that when it comes to accessing care or being able to access care white, straight high SES women make up the majority of the women who can and do get psychiatric care, and I am a part of that population. I am also limiting the discussion to “men” and “women,” not because I do not recognize the great diversity for gender identities, but because data is not collected in a way that adequately or accurately represents gender identities beyond the binary.

Photo Credit: Google Images
Being a woman is a significant predictor of being prescribed psychiatric drugs—25% of U.S. women take them.  This could be because women are more likely to seek help when they experience distress—although they go to their primary care providers for this help—because they experience distress more frequently than men, or because femininity has been pathologized. Likely, it is a combination of all three. On the surface, it may seem positive that women are accessing medication. But when we peek underneath the surface, we find that this may actually be concerning. Despite being more likely to access care from physicians and being prescribed more medication, women are much less likely to seek specialist or inpatient care. They are also attempting suicide at four times the rate of men. This means that the care and medication that women are getting is not working for them—women are still acting on their suicidal intensity more commonly than men.

There are many mental health conditions that disproportionately affect women, and at least a portion of their root causes stem from social factors like discrimination, disempowerment, and trauma. Depression is the most common women’s mental health problem in the world, accounting for 42% of disability from neuropsychiatric disorders (WHO). On a more local level, over 40% of Colorado women report experiencing poor mental health (SHF). Women in the U.S. are twice as likely as men to have a panic disorder, general anxiety, and specific phobias (NAMI). We are less likely to experience a traumatic event in our lifetime—about half do—but are twice as likely as men to develop PTSD following a traumatic event. The most common types of trauma women experience are sexual assault or domestic violence (National Center for PTSD). These types of trauma disproportionately affect women and are part of systemic oppression of women. One of the direct results of experiencing these traumas is propensity for developing a mental health condition.

A specific condition that is often connected with experiencing trauma is Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). BPD is one of the most stigmatized mental health conditions, both inside and outside the mental health field. Almost 75% of people diagnosed with BPD are women, despite recent research that suggests that men are likely almost as frequently affected by the condition (NAMI).  This could be connected to a greater willingness on the part of providers to consider women’s behavior pathological.
Photo Credit: Flickr user
Eating disorders are perhaps some of the best examples of cultural influences creating mental health conditions.  Not only is disordered eating blatantly encouraged by $60 billion per year diet industry, it is glamorized by the pro-ana/mia movement. Anorexia is the most lethal mental health condition, with a 10% mortality rate. This mortality rate is 12 times higher than the death rate of all other causes of death for females 15-24 years old. Women account for 90% of the people experiencing eating disorders (ANAD).

Risk factors for women include gender-based violence, socioeconomic disadvantage, low income and income inequality, low or subordinate social status and rank, and unremitting responsibility for the care of others (WHO). Women experience these risk factors not because of their biology but because of the systematic oppression they face. Hypersexualization and the pervasive cultural belief that women can be controlled through violence exposes women to particular trauma. Being raised to believe that one’s identity as a woman depends always on others, especially men, can lead to codependency and create socioeconomic barriers to accessing care. Of the 50 million people affected by violent conflicts, natural disaster, and displacement, 80% are women and children. Depression, anxiety, distress, and sexual and domestic violence affect more women than men transnationally and cross culturally.

Minority stress—the distress created by discrimination and the roles women occupy in our societies, and the resulting poverty, malnutrition, overwork, and trauma—contributes significantly to women's poor mental health. The more severe and pervasive the factors of minority stress, the poorer women’s mental health becomes. The likelihood that women will face life events that cause feelings of loss, inferiority, humiliation, or entrapment explains their high rates of depression. Low rank is a powerful predictor of depression. Women's subordination is reinforced in the home and the workplace; they are often corralled into low status positions with little decision making ability or upward mobility. Traditional gender roles reinforce submission and dependence, maintaining women’s responsibility for the vast majority of domestic labor, care of children and the elderly, and other unpaid and undervalued labor.

If it has not become obvious yet, this is where the role of feminism becomes paramount in mental health advocacy: improving the social status of women will have positive implications for their mental health. This is true on a global, local, and individual scale. It may also be true that improving the mental health of women will have a positive impact on the status of women.

Photo Credit: Google Images
Back to the Personal

Feminism has been an integral part of recovery for me. Being able to see myself as part of a group of people who were strong and capable made me feel strong and capable. My struggle was not just my struggle, it was a part of a larger search for justice and equity. Being a survivor is a feminist political act. We have lived in the darkest parts of our minds, the parts created by an unjust world, and found our way out. Survivorship for me is integral to my feminism. It is how I see myself reflected in the movement. I am as much a survivor of my suicide attempt as I am a survivor of the conditions that created my vulnerability. Being a survivor of “womanhood,” however that might manifest itself, can be a uniting force for women in the movement. 


Jess Stohlmann Rainey is CJSF's Senior Program Director. Prior to coming to CJSF, Jess was a youth worker and advocate for five years, and previously managed sexual assault and domestic violence advocacy and LGBT youth center programs. Her work focused on skill and leadership development to improve the life skills of underrepresented groups as well as advocating for policy and cultural change within political and educational institutions. Jess has presented nationally at conferences on topics of youth engagement, leadership, gender, sexuality and violence prevention strategies. 

She holds a B.A. in English, Women’s Studies and Cultural Studies from the University of Northern Colorado, and an unconferred M.A. in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

How Youth Entrepreneurship Builds Mental Hardiness that Help Teens Overcome Life Challenges

Guest Post by Ronn Bronzetti

I am a keenly aware of the benefits of youth entrepreneurship. The CEO of the company I work for, Nate Drouin, founded the business when he was just 19 years old. Nate built our company around the premise that donating money and raising money should be much easier to do, and the result was

In today’s competitive workplace, employers are looking for young talent that has both practical job skills and mental hardiness. Enter entrepreneurship education.

Junior Achievement conducted a study around American teenagers and their desired future occupations and discovered almost 70% said that they wanted to become entrepreneurs and despite of this overwhelming interest, young people rarely received any information and about pursuing their entrepreneurial dreams as a career option.

Ronn speaks at MA Roundtable
When students learn about entrepreneurship, they become more engaged in their education through real-world learning experiences. They are introduced to risk-taking, the management of those risks, and how to learn from the outcomes associated with those risks. According to Logic Models and Outcomes for Youth Entrepreneurship Programs (2001), a report by the D.C. Children and Youth Investment Corporation) entrepreneurship education also helps students to enhance their academic performance and build real-world skills. 

For example, youth entrepreneurs:
·         gain lifelong lessons in financial literacy;
·         cultivate innovation;
·         persuade others with well-crafted verbal skills;
·         improve their organizational skills; and
·         test time management skills.

At the same time, emotional resilience is also fortified as budding entrepreneurs
·         foster grit and learn to endure challenging times, uncertainty;
·         increase problem-solving and decision-making abilities;
·         build interpersonal skills and teamwork between students;
·         enhance self-esteem through a sense of self-determination.

In short, the studies indicate the more confident students become, the better equipped they become to work and interact with others.

And the deep learning developed through entrepreneurship education endures. According to the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship, youth that participated in
entrepreneurship programs demonstrated:
·         a higher interest in attending college than their peers (by 32 percent);
·         as well as higher occupational aspiration level than their peers (by 44 percent).


About the Author: Ronn Bronzetti is the Director of Partnerships for is a crowdfunding platform created to help organizations & individuals raise money and generate awareness for their favorite causes. He is also a member of the National Corporate Advisory Council of the Carson J Spencer Foundation