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New Jacobs School office dedicated to mental health in the arts

Dec 13, 2023

Jacobs School of Music students enjoy a holiday party thrown by the Office of Wellness and Arts Health Initiatives in partnership with th... Jacobs School of Music students enjoy a holiday party thrown by the Office of Wellness and Arts Health Initiatives in partnership with the Jacobs School's Health and Wellness Committee. Photo by Wendi Chitwood, Indiana University

The rhythm of life can sometimes feel overwhelming. A new office at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music is helping students, staff and faculty focus on slowing down the tempo.

As one of the world’s most highly regarded music schools, the Jacobs School attracts top musical talents from across the globe. Students travel from near and far to study under renowned musicians and industry professionals. The pressures of being far from home in addition to the nature of pursuing a future in the music industry can have an effect on students’ mental health.

The Jacobs School is taking a proactive approach to ensuring students have access to the support they need by creating the Office of Wellness and Arts Health Initiatives.

“Musicians have their own little world and their own kind of stresses,” said Frank Diaz, coordinator for the office and associate professor of music at Jacobs.

The office’s mission is to provide wellness programming, cultivate campus and community partnerships, and serve as advocates for initiatives focused on physical, mental and emotional health and well-being for students, staff and faculty.

“It’s all centered on the idea of creating a culture of care, connection and community within the Jacobs School,” Diaz said. “This is such a highly competitive environment. Students who come to us are already predisposed to being perfectionists and competitive. It’s very hard when you’re in that grind to build community and take care of yourself.”

Jacobs students participate in a meditation session provided by the Office of Wellness and Arts Health Initiatives. Photo court... Jacobs students participate in a meditation session provided by the Office of Wellness and Arts Health Initiatives. Photo courtesy of the Jacobs School of Music

During its inaugural semester this fall, the Office of Wellness and Arts Health Initiatives offered several wellness programs, including weekly wellness drop-ins, speaker sessions, financial wellness sessions, hearing health resources and walking exercise groups.

The office also partnered with the IU School of Social Work to provide group and individual wellness coaching. Both graduate and undergraduate students in the School of Social Work are available to talk to students, staff and faculty in person and develop problem-solving ideas.

“We take pride in providing our students at the Jacobs School with the highest caliber musical education, and providing quality mental and physical health resources goes hand in hand with preparing them for a successful future,” said Abra Bush, David Henry Jacobs Bicentennial Dean. “The Office of Wellness and Arts Health Initiatives is a wonderfully impactful resource for not only our students, but also our faculty and staff.”

Diaz said they hope to build partnerships with several institutions on campus and in the local community during the next few years, including outreach partnerships to bring music to IU Health Bloomington Hospital and local senior living communities in 2024.

“As part of this, we hope to document the impact these kinds of musical service activities have on well-being, not only of the seniors we will play for but of the students as well,” Diaz said. “This fits OWAHI’s mission to promote service as a means to well-being.”

Jacobs School students enjoy a holiday party thrown by the Office of Wellness and Arts Health Initiatives in partnership with the Jacobs ... Jacobs School students enjoy a holiday party thrown by the Office of Wellness and Arts Health Initiatives in partnership with the Jacobs School's Health and Wellness Committee. Photo by Wendi Chitwood, Indiana University

Providing snacks as a means to well-being has also become a helpful resource from the Office of Wellness and Arts Health Initiatives.

“One of the things we found out from our students is that they sometimes go the whole day without eating because they forget to pack something,” Diaz said.

Students often spend entire days in the music buildings on campus, bouncing between classes and putting in hours of practice in between. The office wanted to ensure students could access food during those long days. They now provide snack carts with free, healthy food inside the music buildings.

The weekly wellness sessions have been another popular resource provided by the office, including opportunities for meditation, yoga, massage, and arts and crafts. The activities help students relieve stress and take care of their bodies, and they have been well attended.

“I have been a part of several meditation sessions, yoga, and arts and crafts,” said Alanna Mossell, a second-year student pursuing a Master of Music in viola performance. “I also went to a session where we got to play our instruments with Dr. Diaz and explore meditation techniques and mental wellness in regard to practice. It has been a very welcoming environment.”

Mossell, an Indiana native, hopes to earn a seat in a Midwestern orchestra one day. She also dreams of conducting a youth orchestra. On top of the stresses that most other music school students handle, Mossell deals with the struggle of being away from her 7-year-old daughter while she completes her studies in Bloomington.

Second-year Master of Music student Alanna Mossell said that resources from the Office of Wellness and Arts Health Initiatives have helpe... Second-year Master of Music student Alanna Mossell said that resources from the Office of Wellness and Arts Health Initiatives have helped her mental health while studying at the Jacobs School of Music. Photo courtesy of Alana Mossell

“My parents look after her while I am at school,” Mossell said. “It is the biggest sacrifice I have ever made. Being her mom is the greatest joy of my lifetime, and I am looking forward to feeling like ‘Mommy’ again.”

Mossell said that being away from her daughter made her first year at Jacobs emotionally and mentally difficult. She was able to find helpful resources to manage the mental stresses of school and missing her daughter.

“I was provided a personal therapist through Jacobs and had sessions with her that greatly impacted my overall mental and physical health,” Mossell said.

Dealing with imposter syndrome is another struggle that Mossell is trying to overcome.

“I have tried to internalize the fact that I belong here at Jacobs since the day I arrived,” Mossell said. “Some days, I still stop in the middle of campus, or in the Cook Music Library, or even in my lesson with my teacher and hero Li-Kuo Chang, and feel gratitude and amazement that I am here. I have not been entirely successful in rooting out the imposter syndrome, but I take it day by day.”

Mossell said that being cognizant and balancing her inner self-critic with internal positive reinforcement helps calm those feelings of doubt.

“It is usually on the days that I have been the most productive that I feel my best and say to myself ‘I am here for a reason,’” Mossell said. “I try to internally frame my successes with every negative intrusive thought, such as listing to myself the new music I have in my fingers and the hard work that is now completed, celebrating a great performance, and even making a much-needed new friend here and there.”

After a successful initial semester, the Office of Wellness and Arts Health Initiatives plans to continue to grow its programming in the hopes of making the future even brighter for talented students, like Mossell, at the Jacobs School.

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Julia Hodson

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