Music takes on several different roles in our society today. Whether it be accompanying you on your daily commute, setting the scene for what is about to happen in a movie, or providing motivation to power through a workout, music can be found virtually anywhere for various reasons. Aside from these simple, everyday situations that music is a part of, it is also responsible for altering one’s state of mind. Listening to an upbeat, cheery song on the way to work can start you off on a good note for a great shift. Hearing deep, ominous music in a scary movie can prepare you for the chilling scene that is about to happen. Playing a song with fast tempos and heavy percussion can inspire you to finish those last two pushups. As we can see, music has the power to enhance one’s attitude and help them persevere through the day. For some people, music is relied on to change their current state of mind from negative to positive. Music has been scientifically and emotionally proven to treat patients who have been diagnosed with anxiety and depression disorders because of its therapeutic qualities.
Before looking into specific cases of individual’s personal reactions to music and their mental illness, it would be best to look at the scientific proof behind it. The brain is a very complex organ that is responsible for everything we do, think, say, and feel. For some individuals that have an imbalance of certain chemicals in their brain, they can feel unhappy and empty or worried and uneasy. A severe imbalance of brain chemicals can lead to depression and anxiety. However, music can change a person’s mood by triggering a particular part of the brain which could make them feel more positive. An article written by Patrik Vuilleumier and Wiebke Trost called “Music and Emotions: from Enchantment to Entrainment” discusses the effects that music has on a person’s brain by performing positron emission tomography (PET) scans and functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) on patients to monitor their brain activity. According to the article, “Pioneer studies using positron emission tomography (PET) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) have consistently shown that pleasurable music activates brain regions usually responding to other pleasures… areas” (Vuilleumier and Trost 212). In other words, this quote shows that listening to an enjoyable type of music has the same effect on your brain as participating in activities that you like. Patients with depression could benefit quite greatly from listening to music they appreciate because it arouses part of the brain that could, at least temporarily, help them feel more positive. This goes to show that not only is music a great use of pastime, it actually gets part of your brain working.
While an individual might not be able to feel a particular part of their brain being activated, they can definitely feel the emotions that result. Most often times people think a song will either make you feel happy or sad, however, that is not the case. Music brings out several other emotions according to Vuilleumier and Trost. They wrote, “These emotion categories include emotions investigated in other domains, such as joy and sadness, but also… wonder, tenderness, nostalgia, tension, power, peacefulness, or transcendence” (Vuilleumier and Trost 213). These feelings are much more in depth that simply feeling good or bad. For an individual with depression to feel power by listening to music is very important. Depression causes people to feel very out of touch with themselves, however, by feeling powerful, even for a slight moment, helps them feel like they are in control of their lives. Similarly, patients suffering from anxiety have the chance to escape their common feelings of overthinking and uneasiness with peacefulness. Peace is the exact opposite of what anxiety patients feel in their daily lives, so to be able to restore that so easily with music could be essential to them.
After establishing scientific background and proof, it is important to look at specific cases in which music helps soothe mentally ill patients. Pre-teenagers and teenagers are very vulnerable in today’s society making them easy targets for depression and anxiety. Many deal with school, work, financial crisis at home, and numerous other factors that affect their mental health. A study has been conducted on 9-17-year-olds which track their self-reported answers to questions about their feelings before and after music therapy sessions. According to the article by Kim Archambault, “Our evaluation showed that participation in individual MAP sessions was associated with systematic reductions in self-reported general negative affect and state anxiety” (Archambault 396). This information is important because it demonstrates that individuals are feeling fewer undesirable emotions. If a patient can specifically point out that they feel less anxious, it is a major improvement. Additionally, showing young people a form of therapy that is easily accessible and affordable will benefit them because they can take action on their own to improve their mental health.
As important as it is that youth get treatment for their anxiety and depression, it is equally as important for adults as well. The rates of depression are more prevalent in women than men so it is important to look at how women can use music as a means of therapy. It is first of all imperative that women take care of their mental health because they are potential mothers or mothers-to-be (Najmeh and Biat). This means that women need to be in the right mental health space in order to properly care for a child. If a woman is not taking care of herself mentally, chances are it would be difficult for her to look after a child as well. By looking at the bigger picture, we see that a woman has a great impact on society because her child will be a part of the future, therefore it is important she protects her mental health. A study was performed on women who have been diagnosed with depression. The study was conducted by participants completing a questionnaire before and after they listened to music. Najmeh Hamid’s and Ali Biat’s article “The Effectiveness of Music Therapy on Depression and Happiness of Depressed Women” states, “Overall, the results of this study showed that music therapy significantly reduced depression in depressed women… Also, the level of happiness of depressed women after music therapy has increased” (Najmeh and Biat). Similar to the study performed on the youths, listening to music decreased the feeling of depression. This statement only reinforces the idea that music works as a form of therapy for not only minors but for adults as well.
After discussing the results of music therapy on patients categorized as having anxiety, it is necessary to look as a specific type of anxiety. Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder in which the individual constantly obsesses over every single detail to the point that it begins to negatively affect their everyday life. These individual’s lives are constantly disrupted because they are chasing after their perception of perfection whether it be everything being in their place, taking a certain number of steps, or overly washing their hands so much they hurt themselves. A book called Developments in Music Therapy Practice: Case Study Perspectives looks at specific cases of different individuals and evaluates the effect of music therapy on them. Chapter 28 of this book looks at a man named Kyle who is diagnosed with OCD. Kyle’s OCD is displayed through his occupation as a physician for ten-hour days, six days a week. He works obsessively and is never satisfied with the work he has done. He also does not take the chance to appreciate any of his achievements because he is constantly striving to do better. This stems from an emotionally abusive childhood where his parents always criticized him. The book states, “I asked Kyle to tell me if he had had even one positive, quiet moment by himself within the last few years. He had not, but he had had a vacation with his wife…a thought which Kyle found pleasant” (Meadows 492). This quote demonstrates that Kyle had not been able to find peace in anything for quite some time. However, he recognized one specific time that was enjoyable. After making him think of this moment, Kyle was instructed to listen to a serenade as he painted what he felt. When he was complete Kyle reported feeling “involved” and “focused.” These two emotions are not things typically felt in OCD patients, especially Kyle who felt disconnected from life and never accomplished. It was the combination of a memory and the soothing sounds of the song he listened to which finally led him to a breakthrough. In other words, music therapy led a man who, for many years, felt nothing to finally feel positive. This is beneficial to his mental health because he is now aware of what he can do to feel better. The chapter also states that Kyle was a wealthy, educated individual. This is important because though he had what is thought to be essential in today’s society, he could not mentally find happiness. However, all it took was a few music therapy sessions to help him find stability in his life.
In conclusion, music therapy has proven to be very beneficial in treating individuals diagnosed with mental illnesses. Scientifically, the same part of the brain that is activated during pleasurable and rewarding activities is also activated when hearing music. Additionally, there are very complex emotions that individuals feel other than just happiness and sadness which can lead to a better understanding of oneself. Several studies discussed throughout the paper have demonstrated that music therapy benefits people from all different ages and gender. Youths diagnosed with depression and anxiety self-reported positive feelings after a music therapy session. Women also reported feeling mentally better after a session. Specifically, a male patient diagnosed with OCD felt positive emotions he has not felt in years after listening to music. All of these cases support the idea that music therapy works wonders for people will depression and anxiety. Because music can be accessed so easily, mentally ill patients can help themselves feel more positive virtually anywhere for practically no cost. Music is nothing more than a compilation of sounds from different frequencies. However, it holds so much power over humans. Based on the way a piece is arranged, people can feel relaxed, scared, excited, or worried. According to Najmeh’s and Biat’s article, “From the beginning of history, humans have used music to heal. In the primitive culture of Africa and its ancient tribes (the witch doctor) was the music leader, the physician and cleric of the tribe” (Najmeh and Biat). This goes to show that music has been used from the beginning of time as a means of healing. With the new advancement of technology today, there is no doubt music can continue to help those in need of its healing.