Transiting into higher education can pose many challenges for students, such as increased levels of academic stress, interacting within new social environments, and learning how to organise one’s own time and finances.
Although these stresses pose issues for all students’ mental health, research has shown that university students of music, visual arts, and architecture are more likely to screen positive for depression, anxiety, and even suicidal ideation. This has been linked to the increased competitive pressure, large workloads, and critical feedback that these students experience.
What about positive well-being?
While these negative mental health concerns are important, it is also worthwhile investigating positive psychology dimensions. One such characteristic is “subjective vitality”: the positive energy and “aliveness” that people experience day to day.
This form of mental health is associated with better self-esteem, feelings of agency, positive moods, and more focus on intrinsic definitions of success. On the other hand, low levels of vitality are linked to mental health disorders, greater perceived pain, and external pressures.
A recent study by researchers of the Optimal Music Performance group has investigated the impact that stress has on university music students’ subjective vitality. Surveying 293 Australian and US students, they found that higher levels of stress were associated with lower levels of this positive energy.
In contrast to stress, the researchers found that students’ ability to adapt to challenges and positive peer relationships were associated with greater subjective vitality.
Can adaptability and relationships reduce the impact of stress?
Although the study found that adaptability and positive relationships predicted greater vitality, these relationships were not found to moderate stress’ harmful influence. This suggests that the only true way to reduce the harmful effects of stress may be to get rid of the stress altogether.
For university music programs, this highlights the priority that should be given to reducing the pressure placed on students. While this may not always be practical or even possible, universities can assist their students develop positive energy through helping nurture social support networks and teachings skills on how to adapt to challenges.
Through better supporting music students, universities can help increase the mental well-being, educational outcomes, and vitality of the future generation of musicians.
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Miksza, P., Evans, P., & McPherson, G. E. (2019). Wellness Among University-level Music Students: A Study of the Predictors of Subjective Vitality. Musicae Scientiae. https://doi.org/10.1177/1029864919860554