Hope Through Headphones seeks to change culture around mental health

Yash Chitrakar

Hope Through Headphones is making an impact on the mental health community by compiling free playlists. 

The first tracks on HOPE THROUGH HEADPHONES, the student organization’s Spotify playlist, are zestful pop tracks like “Lonely Together” by Avicii, “Fight Song” by Rachel Plattern and “Firework” by Katy Perry. A few tracks down the list, Lexi Rodriguez, Hope Through Headphones president, adds her personal punk rock favorites like “Tired Eyes and Heavy Hearts” by The Gospel Youth, “Can’t Save Myself” by As It Is and “Protection” by Movements.  

Rodriguez said that she hopes that spreading this free playlist with the Washburn student body will inspire hope for them and for any other listeners going through a stressful time.

“Anyone can add music to it,” said Rodriguez. “Every song in the playlist has touched our members in some way. Hope Through Headphones, essentially, is a movement that aims to provide mental health education and support to students while incorporating music to connect and inspire.”

Rodriguez said that the mission of her organization is to decrease the stigma of mental health on campus and create a safe space in which to talk about it. Rodriguez has personally struggled with bipolar disorder, and knows how a lack of information on mental illness can be detrimental to treatment. To prevent that from happening, the members of Hope Through Headphones are taking mental health first aid training. Not only that, the organization also has connections with Washburn Counseling Services and Valeo, another mental health care center.

The organization was originally looking to serve as a branch of Buddy Project, a mental health organization, but found out that there was already a similar organization forming on campus. Buddy Project was reluctant to open branches, as well.

It was after Rodriguez and her friends went to the Warped Tour that the idea of incorporating music was conceptualized. They connected with bands like The Gospel Youth and Stack Like Pancakes, as both bands played songs that talked about issues related to mental health.

Since ideas can be expressed in a more empathetic manner through music, Rodriguez thought using music was the best way to connect students and to inspire them.

“Music really has a way of reaching into a person,” Rodriguez said. “I’m very much into the punk rock industry, and there’s a lot of songs that are like, ‘This is how you should be taking care of yourself, but also I relate to you.’”

In “Protection” by Movements, one of her favorite songs, the lead singer belts out lyrics about not being able to verbalize the thoughts swimming in his mind.

“He does it in the middle of the song,” Rodriguez said. “It’s a whole amazing poem, and instead of trying to match it to the music, he just screams it. There is just so much emotion.”

As with any unique idea, equally clever marketing is necessary for it to gain traction, and that is the main focus of Hope Through Headphones now. They have reached out to Washburn’s sororities and fraternities, as well as organizations such as Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.

Hope Through Headphones is partnering with To Write Love on Her Arms to present a mental health float in this year’s homecoming parade. Hope Through Headphones is also organizing a benefit concert in March in the hopes of raising enough money to turn itself into a non-profit.

Students from the University of Kansas and the University of Central Florida have approached Rodriguez to discuss starting their own branches of Hope Through Headphones. With 1 in 5 college students likely to suffer from mental illness, Hope Through Headphones looks to reduce the stigma against mental health and replace it with a culture in which mental health is treated with respect and legitimacy.