Hip Hop for Mental Health -
a creative approach to treating mental health conditions through hip hop music

Imagine a concert featuring the top performing artists of the 21st century--millions of young people look to these cultural icons for inspiration, admire them as artists, and cherish their music. Now, consider the healing potential of lyrics: imagine if singers and musicians could use their talents to influence young people with mental health disorders.

http://www.musicandmentalhealth.com (M+MH) aims to do just that—to use the power of rhyme, compelling lyrics and great music to help educate and empower young people with mental health challenges. By fusing lively beats and the rhythm of hip-hop, soul, classical, funk, Latin and jazz music with positive, uplifting lyrics, we hope to reach a wide audience both nationally and internationally. Dr. Patrice Wolters, director of music and mental health, writes lyrics designed to help young people:

  1. Identify the red flags for mental health conditions;
  2. Find therapeutic ways to overcome distorted thinking;
  3. Find hope and inspiration and to learn positive coping skills for dealing with seemingly uphill battles.
  4. Reduce the stigma associated with mental health conditions.

Dr. Wolters' lyrics are based on over twenty five years of experience with children, teens, adults and couples. They are also largely inspired by her personal struggles in overcoming adversity.

The theoretical foundation of her research is set in the area of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Dr. Wolters is also interested in investigating various ways that her mental health songs may improve brain functioning. Currently we are gathering some preliminary data on how young people (from about 12 to 28 years old) respond to the songs. However, we believe that people of all ages can benefit from the songs.

Teaching reality-based and optimistic ways of thinking has been found to be a successful method for treating mental health conditions. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is based on the premise that dysfunctional thinking can strongly influence a person's mood or behavior and is common to most psychosocial problems. Thus, the 'music and mental health' initiative aims to offer creatively written lyrics that teach young people how to replace negative types of thinking with healthy therapeutic thinking and behavior patterns. We hypothesize that by developing healthier ways of thinking; participants will become more productive and score higher on such test as the Beck Depression Inventory.

For example, here is the chorus from a song about bipolar disorder that is designed to help empower young people with mental health challenges.

I’ve got the power to stand up for myself
Without letting genes take control of my health,
I’ve got the power to shape the life that I live
With a positive stance there is more I can give.

We know that children, teens and adults often feel depressed, overwhelmed, irritable, and/or anxious at some stage in their lives. Young people can find hope in these lyrics, which are designed to help them effectively manage their symptoms. Those who feel bad about inheriting genetic predispositions can recognize that it is not their fault. People with mental health disorders should not have to feel ashamed. To hear such a positive message playing on the radio, iPod, YouTube or blasting during a concert can make all the difference in changing their way of thinking.

Empirical research has established that CBT can be just as effective a treatment as using prescribed medications, but can be more beneficial as it lacks the side effects attributed to many prescription drugs. However, we lack research on how effective CBT is over the long range and of course many people cannot afford therapy. It is my hypotheses that repeatedly listening to and integrating uplifting songs will be a more effective change agent than receiving CBT in the office or reading a self help book. A song automatically incorporates repetition and practice and the use of rhyming makes it easier to memorize the messages. Additionally, M+MH can reach the large percentage of people who cannot afford or choose not to go to therapy. Countries such as Korea and India have a huge stigma regarding seeking mental health treatment and the 'music and mental health initiative' aims to get music and education to those populations. Our lyrics will also be in Spanish to accommodate the needs of the large numbers of Hispanic people.

Healthy habits are much easier to learn when mental health conditions are identified early on. Countless adolescents and young adults struggle with severe emotional pain related to unidentified and/or untreated mental health disorders. This interferes with healthy development and learning good self-esteem. Millions of adolescents remain untreated, either turning to drugs as a form of self-medication or (with some) ending up in the juvenile justice system, costing taxpayers billions of dollars. Some may become severely depressed and turn to suicide as a remedy, while others get labeled as slow learners with behavior problems, when in fact their illness makes it extra difficult to focus, learn, or complete tasks.

By identifying mental health conditions at an early age and providing effective treatment, we can often facilitate healthy development and prevent unnecessary suffering. Long-term treatment is very expensive, but becomes a necessity if conditions remain unidentified until late in adulthood—early identification could potentially save billions of dollars in extra medical bills. Similarly, adults with undetected depressive and bipolar spectrum disorders often develop heart conditions, diabetes and other serious health conditions that shorten life and are expensive to treat. A major aim of M+MH is to help identify mental health conditions among young people. The song "Let's work together," which is available on the site, educates about the symptoms of bipolar. This song has helped bipolar patients in the child psychiatry department at Stanford University.

Awareness is an important tool to facilitate change. Dr. Wolters' goal is to increase awareness as she collaborates with several different hip-hop artists, singers and musicians. She has written lyrics to over 30 songs, and to date has already produced several songs with the help of local artists and her incredible musical team from NYU. Dr. Wolters hopes that her initiative can have a global impact; the majority of all mainstream music from the U.S. is exported to other countries and heard worldwide.

1. Korea

  • Over 70% of airtime in Korea is given to pop music- Majority played is hip-hop
    • This can provide enormous benefit to those in countries whose culture does not support treatment of mental health
  • Huge stigma around having any sort of mental health problem
    • Effect of stigma  over 1,200 suicides over the last few years;
    • Leaders now seeking more mental health training
  • Many victims of suicide: students who feel enormous pressure to succeed academically

As hip-hop is so popular in Korea, the ‘music and mental health’ initiative could enable many to learn positive coping skills and inspire a change in perspective about mental health.

2. India
Child psychologist Prachi Kandagparker is leading a workshop to train teachers to deal with mental health issues among their students. Dr. Kandagparker states:

  • “Most of the time you would have parents or teachers saying it doesn’t happen here. It happens to somebody with lots of problems and we don’t face that. When it comes to anything of mental illness, it would be a big no-no. It would be hidden. People with mental health conditions in parts of India are chained in institutions and denied necessary and dignified treatment.”

Lyrics with rhymes are easy to memorize, especially when put to a catchy beat, and will help people retain our empowering and educational lyrics. Some of my patients have discovered they can replace negative thinking with a positive mental health chorus or verses.  This habit can lead to positive changes in behavior.  To date our growing team has created songs with a hip hop flavor but we intend to use music from different genres as we create new songs in 2013 and 2014. M+MH uses the power of music to help people get up, get busy, and get involved, inspiring hope when people are down and providing guidance to those who have lost their way. And perhaps most importantly, we want to defeat the serious stigma attached to mental health conditions. Here is the inspiring chorus from our campaign song about bipolar:

Let’s work together to do our best,
To help kids in need feel OK to express
Hey I’m down and out and so depressed
I need good help to get our of this mess
Yes, let’s commit to a national campaign
To reduce the stigma in the mental health game

Here is a fun rhyme from the original song, “Champion of Me”, which has helped parents assist their children in developing healthy eating habits to promote fitness. Many parents tell me, “my child won’t eat her/his vegetables” and this little tune has helped kids start eating a healthier diet. This is an easy verse for a young person to memorize, which can help them incorporate fruits and vegetables into their diet.

I alone hold the key to my metabolic energy
And like Muhammad Ali I’m the champion of me
Vegetables and fruits are essential to my game
And variety is central; it’s become my middle name


Skills can make all the difference in the life of a child, teen, or young adult. Developing success skills, therapeutic ways of thinking, relationship/friendship skills, and fitness habits can help kids develop positive self-esteem and have the motivation and energy necessary to master the challenges of life.  Over the next 2 years we will be developing musical curriculums that will help people who:

  • Procrastinate
  • Grapple with relationship issues
  • Struggle with mood and anxiety disorders
  • Need help developing a good support network

We especially want to inspire young people to workout as this helps all people have a healthy life. The bottom line is we want to teach positive coping skills to anyone facing a seemingly uphill battle. While still in the developmental stage, we tentatively aim to create CDs to potentially be marketed to junior and four-year colleges across the country. A second plan is to market the music to various mental health organizations in the U.S, Korea, and India, just to name a few. Of course, we are investigating how to get the songs to the many people who do not attend college, but need the messages of our music. I will be flying to Korea in 2013 to discuss making ‘music and mental health’ available to young people. I am also developing a manual to go with our songs.

Team member for ‘Music and Mental Health’
May 2013

Over the past several years I have formed a team dedicated to developing music and mental health.

Musicians: Drew Schultz, Emilio Tostado, Jent LaPalm
They are graduates of the jazz program at NYU. These students were recommended by the head of the jazz department and have been very committed to the project. They created the music to our hit single, “Eyes on the Prize “and the “Three Moody Cats.”

Student Editors:
I have also employed several student editors who are indicated in the credits below. Currently I am working with marketing student, Katherine Douglas, who is captain of the volleyball team at Santa Clara University. Katherine is focusing on internet marketing and making the songs available to Facebook, YouTube and Twitter users. Katherine is working with a professor in the MBA program at SCU, Dr. Barr. He is volunteering his time to help Katherine in her role as my assistant. She will have important input on helping develop a fitness/teamwork song.

Vocalist: David Bradshaw
David is also a graduate of NYU. He has worked for the University Child Health Center, and did the singing for a great song called the “Three Moody Cats.” David was carefully selected from a number of candidates for his positive, fun and uplifting voice.

Finally a graduate of Santa Clara University’s MBA program is working to get our songs available in India.  

Below is a closer look at the focus of upcoming songs.
One CD and accompanying manual will focus on relationship skills. I am an associate with The Couples Institute in Menlo Park (Drs. Ellyn Bader and Peter Pearson) and have extensive experience helping young people develop life-enhancing relationship skills. The focus on our relationship songs will be to help equip and encourage our population to:

  1. Handle conflict effectively,
  2. Reach out to others without feeling ashamed,
  3. Communicate effectively with a partner or friend,
  4. Get involved in their community,
  5. Learn intimacy skills,
  6. Develop the ability to identify feelings and express them in healthy ways.

Armed with these skills, students will increase the probability of maintaining a long-term support system, which is important to everyone, especially those with a mental health condition. The song, “Three Moody Cats” is available at musicandmentalhealth.com. Memorizing the chorus can then be used to ignite action when one begins to feel depressed or is already stuck in a depressive episode. What follows in the chorus from the “Three Moody Cats!”

Don’t let anything get in your way,
Overcome obstacles persist each day
If your mood gets low, just get up and go
And pretty soon you’ll generate the cool cat flow

When you hear the positive, fun and pulsating music in this song you too will want to get up and go!

Our current group of songs is in the category YOU CAN BEAT THE BLUES!  LIVING SUCCESSFULLY WITH A MOOD DISORDER   
Given the serious increase in bipolar disorder and depression, we intend to have 5 songs and an accompanying manual aimed at helping young people, professionals, and parents to:

  1. Diagnose depression and bipolar spectrum disorders
  2. Teach young people the skills to manage moods effectively
  3. Learn therapeutic ways of thinking to replace dysfunctional patterns
  4. Teach skills to keep moving forward when experiencing stress, a down day, or a depressive episode
  5. Develop positive character traits such as persistence, courage, and other success skills for life

Let’s Work Together”
“Let’s Work Together” is on our website sample page and is designed to teach professionals, parents, and young people ways to better diagnosis and understand bipolar and bipolar spectrum conditions. It is a clear call to work together to reduce stigma.

“Eyes on the Prize”
Our song “Eyes on the Prize” helps develop various success skills, and character traits, such as persistence. You can hear this song by going to YouTube, typing in “Eyes on the Prize by Patrice Wolters,” and focusing on the lyrics as you listen to the positive sound track.

“Hold On”
The song, “Hold On” is aimed at young people who struggle with some sort of drug or alcohol addiction. Currently there is an article on the website called “Kicking the Habit,” which tells the true story of a teen that learned to break free from using drugs.  Students will learn stories about real kids that will inspire them to quit self-destructive habits. Most importantly, our focus on resiliency will help young people develop positive character traits and habits. The sensational song “Eyes on the Prize”(referred to above-performed by Lil Jordan- golfer, actor and rapper; lyrics by Dr. Wolters; music by Jent LaPalm- bass, Drew Schultz- drums, and Emilio Tostado-guitar) will encourage the development of persistence, confidence, setting a goal, having a plan and staying focused. The articles “Kicking the Habit” and “Beating Procrastination” (available on musicandmentalhealth.com) provide tools and insights to breaking habits of addiction and procrastination.
Please feel free to contact me at my email, gotoamaze@sbcglobal.net, for more information. We would love to hear from you!! If you are a researcher, we would appreciate your thinking about research as we want to prove the effectiveness of our songs and lyrics. And remember “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize!”


Director and Founder: Dr. Patrice Wolters
CA Licensed Psychologist State of California

Dr. Wolters would like to express her deep appreciation to the many young people who have made this project possible. They are listed below and new people continue to be involved in moving this global initiative forward.


Musical Director
Jent Lapalm, New York University

NYU Musicians
Drew Schultz: drummer with the Four Tops
Emilio Tostado: guitar, rapper
David Bradshaw: graduate of NYU
40Love hip-hop group San Francisco
DEE1 San Francisco California

 Administrative and Marketing Intern
Katherine Douglas: Santa Clara University student

Educational Consultant
Dr.Ellyn Bader: Director of The Couples Institute in Menlo Park, Ca

Creative Assistant
 Jent LaPalm

Past editors
Stacey Vreeken: feature writer Santa Cruz Sentinel &
Michelle Pierce: Los Altos, CA
Jaan Landheer: former student at UCSC
Ariana Smith: former student UCI
Ava Rohen: former student UCSC
Libor Jany: former editor of entertainment section of Santa Cruz Sentinel &
Artist for website
John Keeler







© 2010 - Dr. Patrice Wolters | Hiphopformentalhealth.com | 1-831-457-7775