Research study investigates how music therapy can help mentally ill children and young people

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Queen's University Belfast is to play a major role in the biggest trial ever conducted to investigate how music therapy can help children and young people with severe mental health problems.

Researchers from the School of Nursing and Midwifery at Queen's will work on the landmark project with Northern Ireland Music Therapy Trust (NIMTT), a charity providing music therapy services to people with disabilities and disorders who have profound communication difficulties.

NIMTT has been awarded £326,164 from the Big Lottery Fund's Research programme, to carry out Music in Mind - the largest study ever undertaken into the effects of music therapy on children and young people with severe mental health problems - with Queen's.

The therapy will be trialled over a three year period on over 200 children and young people to test whether it improves their communication, self-confidence and self-esteem.

The Queen's research team is being led by Professor Sam Porter and includes psychologist Dr Katrina McLaughlin and Dr Valerie Holmes, who has extensive experience in carrying out major trials.

Professor Porter said: "The role of the Queen's research team is to take an impartial and objective look at whether or to what extent music therapy improves the communication skills of children with severe mental health problems.

"Research to date has not been able to conclusively answer these questions so this is why the Queen's trial is of such importance.

"The Music in Mind trial is by far the largest ever conducted in this area. Its size means that it will be able to generate results in which commissioners and practitioners of health care can have confidence.

"It is a landmark in the scientific investigation of music therapy. Given that music therapy is practiced around the world, the significance of its results will be global.

 "Through our dynamic partnership with the Northern Ireland Music Therapy Trust, we have the opportunity to position the School of Nursing and Midwifery at Queen's as the world-leader in this very important area of health care research."

NIMTT Executive Director Fiona Davidson explained that the findings of the pioneering study will have the potential to improve the psychiatric services provided for children and young people in Northern Ireland and across the UK.

"The report by the Chief Medical Officer in Northern Ireland in 2005 showed that 20 per cent of children and young people in Northern Ireland are experiencing severe mental health problems by their 18th birthday.

"The impact of 30 years of conflict also continues to have an effect on communities in Northern Ireland.

 "We want to show that music therapy can improve young people's communication and mental health and their ability to work with other psychiatric services such as counselling. Music therapy builds a new language of communication for people who can't use words or find it difficult to express how they feel. 

"We hope that the findings, which will be presented to professionals and policymakers in Northern Ireland and further afield through an international conference, will, if positive, lead to an increase in the provision of music therapy across the UK. Currently, attracting Government funding for music therapy is very difficult and this sort of evidence is increasingly required given the competing demands on health service funding. 

John Devine, Principal of Edmund Rice PS, on the Antrim Road in the New Lodge Road area of north Belfast, said he had seen a marked improvement in the communication and confidence of pupils who have taken part in music therapy.

 "I hope this research will prove the benefits that music therapy brings to the lives of young people.

"The legacy of the Troubles has been passed down through the generations and continues to affect young people today. Some young people struggle to cope with the everyday interactions involved in school and society.

 "From the minute they go to the therapist we see a change in them. They look forward to going to the therapist and return to class settled and more receptive. They are more relaxed, so their learning improves, and the learning of everyone around them improves.

"Consequently when parents, used to the problems of difficult behaviour, hear their child is doing better in school they themselves take more of an interest in school life."

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