As our frontline healthcare workers have worked to keep the public safe throughout the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, a new study is looking into how to keep them safe through the power of music.
Fittingly, the study started its recruitment phase this March which is Music Therapy Awareness Month. The Vancouver charitable foundation Music Heals is launching the virtual study in partnership with Simon Fraser University researchers to investigate the mental health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on health care workers.
Previous studies have shown that due to the realities of their jobs, frontline healthcare workers are at a higher risk of developing PTSD, depression, and other mental health disorders. The pandemic has only served to exacerbate those risks as healthcare workers are particularly vulnerable given their exposure to the virus, potentially transmitting the virus to loved ones, and increased work hours.
Dr. Ryan D’Arcy is a neuroscientist at SFU and is leading the study along with the BrainNET team of researchers at the Health and Technology District in Surrey. The study is looking for 20 healthcare workers at Surrey Memorial Hospital who have a basic understanding of music to take part. Once selected, study participants will be given ukuleles and receive one or two virtually-led weekly sessions with a trained music therapist over the course of four weeks.
Study participants will also receive a headband that will monitor and visualize their brainwave activity before and after the sessions so participants can immediately see the results.
"We're going to look at changes in your brainwaves which is going to be really exciting,” D’Arcy said. “You want to know it's making a difference so if you get to look and say 'wow this is changing my brain' that's really going to be reinforcing to continue down that path."
This brainwave scanning approach utilizes technologies being studied at SFU and takes advantage of ongoing research in therapy methods to improve mood and mental health.Dr. Shaun Fickling is a biomedical engineer and a recent SFU PhD graduate who is coordinating the study. Fickling says there has been scientific evidence that shows there are benefits of music therapy on mental health, and it’s worth exploring further.
“It is imperative to care for the morale and mental health of our health care workers to maintain the viability of our health care system especially during the pandemic, and we need to investigate mechanisms to offer psychosocial support to these important populations,” Fickling said.
Taryn Stephenson, a spokesperson for Music Heals, says she hopes the study will give more scientific credence to the work of music therapists.
"We know here that music is a language of emotion and it will be I think quite groundbreaking to be able to show scientifically what our group and the music therapists who work with music heals already know."
Stephenson also hopes the study will aid in recognizing music therapy as a more viable treatment for anxiety and depression.
"[Music Heals] is filling a void where eligible funding from traditional sources like government funding or healthcare, even extended healthcare is unavailable,” Stephenson said. “I know it would be incredible to be able to have science to back this up to make music therapy be on the list of financial priorities or facilities."