A portion of the 2022 Drum Corps International annual meetings, held virtually January 5-9, featured joint sessions of various stakeholders throughout the drum corps community actively participating in presentations related to prominent topics.

Among the compelling addresses was that of Dr. Julie Hill and Jeremy VanWert, who updated DCI’s constituents on the work of the Marching Arts Safety and Health (MASH) committee, specifically on mental health as it relates to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Julie Hill is an assistant professor of psychology at LaSalle University specializing in developmental psychology. Jeremy VanWert is the executive director of Vanguard Music & Performing Arts holding master's degrees in marriage, family and child therapy and business administration in healthcare and leadership administration.

In conjunction with the annual meetings, DCI’s Dan Potter had the chance to speak with Hill and VanWert on their presentation.

What effects have you observed in regards to the last two years in regards to pandemic-related mental health?

Hill: It's certainly been a tough time for everyone, adolescents not excluded. At the university level, I see my college students every day, but mostly on Zoom. They’re really struggling to make connections, to keep up with their motivation to continue to do things that they used to do without problems, such as schoolwork, and just any of their other things in life. It's become quite a struggle, from the general isolation that the pandemic has brought overall, plus the trauma of seeing people affected by COVID.

VanWert: We’re just beginning our regular season now, but what I have been seeing both in my private practice and in the other work that I've been doing, is that we have this two-year period of time where this development of these young people has really been on a bit of a hiatus. So, what I would see — and I was seeing this a little bit at our audition camps — is your auditioning members coming in and being a little bit more prone to overwhelm, a little bit more anxious, and a little bit harder to be resilient. And they want to be resilient, but they've had two years of not being in a consistent schooling environment, or many of them being in different kinds of schooling environments, some of them not at all, some of them went to school the whole time. So, you have this mix-match of these young people with different experiences over the past year.

Is mental health more important in 2022 than ever as it relates to the drum corps activity?

Hill: I think it really helps that we have this heightened awareness that has come from the problems of the pandemic, so that we can really drill into our practices, good ways to manage a variety of situations, anything that comes up on the road. So, in the future, when we're no longer in this pandemic state, we still have good practices, and we're ready to deal with whatever comes our way.

VanWert: I completely agree with that. This is a huge transition for these young people to go from where they've been — and many of them did drum corps last year with the drum corps that did the smaller tours — but they're transitioning back into a more normal state of what drum corps and school and so forth actually is. Transitions usually are difficult for young people, really, for all of us. And for our staff, our leadership, our admins to be able to recognize the signs of stress, and what is good stress, what's normal stress, and what is concerning.

What is the difference between “good stress” and “bad stress?”

VanWert: Good stress is when you can see the young person get frustrated, maybe act out on that just a little bit in the ‘ugh’ sort of way and then get on, move on. That's resilience. When you're seeing a young person in a position where they're starting to isolate from others… where they might be restricting food, where their friends might be going, ‘Gosh, what happened to John, John seems different’. And John needs somebody to kind of tap on his shoulder and go, ‘Hey, how are you doing? What's happening?’ If you're seeing a young person who is seeing all the corrections that they're getting on a regular day, in a drum corps environment, just stack up on them, like they're overwhelmed, and they can't incorporate the information into how to get better, that's the bad stress. The good stress is, ‘Oh, I'm going to do it better next time. I'm going to do it better next time.’

Hill: When you're going to perform, you should have a little bit of anxiety or a little bit of nerves before you get out there, because it means you care, but you don't want it to be too much. It’s the same sort of thing in rehearsal situations, like Jeremy’s saying, you want to care that you didn't do it quite right that time and you want to do more, and so you should feel a little bit of that stress, but it can't be so much that it's shutting you down, that you're isolating yourself. That would be what we have to look out for and help if we see that happening.”

What else would you tell corps directors and staffs to be looking for?

Hill: I think there's also the reality that all of our members, wherever they're coming from, have gone through a wide variety of situations leading up to the summer as they've gone through COVID — I'm sure there will be people that have lost family members to COVID — that have experienced scary health situations themselves. So, that collective trauma is something that can be manifesting in many different ways, whether it's through more depression-type things — we always get worried about any suicidal ideology that might come out. Those are some of the major things that come to mind.

VanWert: This is a big topic, but to really break it down into something kind of tangible, there are certain people who have a great deal of depression or anxiety or, or difficulties with self-confidence and these sorts of things. With these profound feelings that they have, they find that if they injure themselves physically, that all of that internal pain then turns to physical pain, which is much more manageable. So, what I would recommend is for people to look at injuries on the arms on the legs of members that look organized, that look fresh, and that those need to be referred over to a health and wellness person or an adult in charge.

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