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Music and Mental Health: The CHV Music Room Fosters Connection and Healing 

The sounds coming from the music room at Covenant House Vancouver’s (CHV) downtown location are always changing. Some days, you hear the melodic strumming of guitars and voices singing. Other days, you hear a full-blown jam session with drums thumping and electric guitars blaring. But talking and laughter are constant, as young people hang out and relax in the room’s comfy chairs, bathed in the soft glow of twinkle lights.  

Since its creation last year, CHV’s music room has become a favourite space for youth and workers alike to learn, write, and play music together, connecting through creative expression. And while it’s certainly fun and inspiring, the room has a deeper purpose, too: to encourage mental well-being and healing.  

“The music room is a great place for youth to learn self-expression, emotional regulation, and how to work alongside peers to come together and create music,” said Brendan Pommier, a youth worker in the Crisis Program. 

The need is undeniable – approximately 20 per cent of Canadian youth are affected by either a mental illness or a disorder. Youth facing homelessness tend to be at greater risk, with some estimating their rates of mental health crisis to be as high as 85.4 percent. Substance use is sometimes linked with mental illness and may also be a way of coping with untreated mental health conditions and trauma.  

At CHV, we offer a continuum of services that incorporate evidence-informed theories and practices to ensure that we care for the whole person—mind, body, and spirit. Today, there is a growing body of research proving that music can help with all three. Here are a few examples: 

We’ve seen these positive effects firsthand among youth at CHV, where music has become a welcome outlet for expression. In our music room, youth can channel their emotions, cope with challenges, work on their craft, have fun, and build connections with peers and staff. 

“Youth have expressed to me that they were having a ‘bad day’ but being able to play an instrument and take part in the creative process had a positive impact on their mood,” Brendan said. 

Our musical “library” has grown to include several guitars, a banjo, assorted percussion instruments, keyboards, accordions, microphones, amps, and a large monitor. But the room is about more than the instruments. It’s about creating an environment conducive to healing and connection. With this in mind, cozy chairs and cushions line the space, adding warmth and comfort, while magical twinkle lights – originally requested by the youth themselves – hang on the walls, adding a touch of wonder and enchantment.   

The space is almost always buzzing with sound and creativity, and everyone uses it differently. Some youth pick up a guitar and pour their feelings into a song, while some write or rap about personal experiences as a way of processing through storytelling. Others discover a sense of accomplishment by learning a new instrument, building confidence and self-esteem. Some simply sit and listen.  

But however they use it, the music room offers a chance for social connection. Jam sessions become collaborative efforts, encouraging teamwork and fostering a sense of belonging. Staff members often join in, creating positive relationships built on shared musical experiences. (Karaoke nights are tons of fun, too!)  

Beyond the CHV Music Room: A Symphony of Support 

CHV recognizes that not every young person is comfortable grabbing a microphone or sitting down at a keyboard right away. So, we have also partnered with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra (VSO), to offer music lessons to interested youth, providing structured learning and mentorship from professional musicians. CHV youth are also invited to attend VSO concerts, exposing them to the power of live music and broadening their artistic horizons. 

Eight youth currently attend the VSO program on a regular basis and five youth are taking private lessons for cello, guitar, vocals, and piano. One of the youths who attended shared that it’s a “fun experience to spend time communicating with people in a creative way.” 

The CHV music program has been a testament to the transformative power of music and mental health. Whether it’s the joyful release of a jam session, the quiet calm of listening or the focused learning of a new instrument, CHV youth find support, expression, and empowerment.