People generally agree that music has an impact on mental health and our moods, whether through numerous studies that show correlations between music, relaxation and improved mental health, or through countless Twitter memes about sad Drake songs. Some people even program music around their lives, listening to certain music in the morning to pump themselves up for the day, or calming music at night to sleep.
One of the most intriguing explorations of music’s cognitive impact has been the incorporation of music into mental health treatment. Music therapy, as it’s called, is not meant to cure mental health issues on its own, but can help alleviate some of the pain involved with certain symptoms, as well as augment actual cures such as medication.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, there are four major components to music therapy: lyric analysis, improv music playing, active music listening and songwriting. Many readers will realize that people subconsciously perform some of these activities on their own: a modern music fan might place themselves within Drake’s shoes in “Marvin’s Room,” or relate to the lyrics of a melancholy Frank Ocean track. In a hospital setting, professionals work with mental health patients in a similar way, incorporating songwriting and improv as mediums for patients to express themselves in ways not possible with speech.
While the memes above show how listening to sad music while sad can lead to a downward spiral close to an existential crisis, studies have also shown that listening to the right kinds of music can relax patients before surgery, decrease depression and sadness and reduce anxiety. Interestingly, one study found that listening to music can elevate moods while driving, for example, helping drivers remain calm during rush hour traffic. While these studies are correlation case studies, it goes to show that music has a large impact on our minds and our mental health.
For many anxious, stressed, or depressed college students and young adults, seeking professional treatment is daunting and sometimes perceived as unnecessary. Making therapy more accessible through music makes it more likely for people to seek out the assistance they need. Whether they choose to eventually seek professional help, or simply listen to a happy track to help get them out of the dumps, an awareness of music’s effect on mental health and mood can lead to happier outcomes.