Hip Hop music and psychiatry to treat mental illness


A unique project undertaken by the University of Cambridge is set to bring together psychiatry and hip-hop. Researchers plan to use music and lyrics from artists, such as Tupac and Nas, to help with mental health problems.

Hip-hop started during the early 1970s in the South Bronx in New York. Many of the original artists, and those performing today, came from areas of economic and social deprivation, and these circumstances are reflected in their lyrics. An example of this is The Message by Grand Master Flash & The Furious Five, which was released during 1982, and includes the following lyrics:

“Broken glass everywhere, people pissing on the stairs, you know they just don’t care. I can’t take the smell, can’t take the noise. Got no money to move out, I guess I got no choice…”

The co-founders of HIP HOP PSYCH, Dr Akeem Sule and Dr Becky Inkster, stated that because hip-hop comes from areas where there is socioeconomic deprivation, the lyrics normally reflect many of the problems people brought up in those areas face, including crime, drugs, poverty and marginalisation. Dr Sule states that it is possible to see many of the risk factors linked to mental illness in the lyrics. He said the artists use their talents to describe the world around them, but they also use it as a way of breaking free. There is usually a message of hope in the lyrics by the description of the place they would like to be, the models they wish to date and the cars they wish to own.

The article by the co-founder used an example by The Notorious BIG, with their song Juicy. It is ‘dedicated to all the teachers that told me I’d never amount to nothin’, to all the people that lived above the buildings that I was hustlin’ in front of that called the police on me when I was just tryin’ to make some money to feed my daughter’. However it goes on to describe how successful he has become by stating, Super Nintento, Sega Genesis; When I was dead broke, man I couldn’t picture this; 50 inch screen, money green leather sofa; Got two rides, a limousine with a chauffeur; Phone bill about two G’s flat, no need to worry, my accountant handles that; And my whole crew is loungin’, celebratin’ every day, mo more public housin’.

The researchers highlighted the similarities the lyrics have with ‘positive visual imagery’, which is a technique looked at by the University of Oxford’s Professor Emily Holmes and her team. The therapy encourages a patient to make use of the power of their imagination to aid during difficult times, including through bipolar episodes and depression. By the integration of psychotherapies and hip-hop, they believe that psychologists could refine the tools they use to make it more useful to their patients.

They believe that hip-hop could be used to make certain therapies more effective and help patients suffering depression to create positive self-images.

They are keen to introduce HIP HOP PSYCH to schools, hostels and prisons to promote positive self-esteem. They have already introduced their project to lecture halls and festivals, and have had a positive response from artists in the hip-hop community.

The researchers are hoping to use this project to aid in tackling the crisis that psychiatry is currently facing. There has been a steady increase in the number of mental illness cases, but support continues to decline globally.

Image Credit: gringolivier


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