Music and Mental Health

Like individuals, music is also dynamic. It can be interpreted in various ways, with unique links back to memories, a time of happiness or sadness. But how can music help support someone with mental health?

Music can be identified as a universal language utilising sound as its form of communication and expression.

Music can help us express emotions that are hard to verbalise - Psychology Today

Our heart and our brain communicate in a two-way conversation, constantly sending signals to and from each other. Our heart anticipates and controls the emotions that we feel, whilst the brain receives and sends signals and responses to the rest of our body. So it isn't surprising to think that when our heartbeat syncs to the music that we listen to, that our body and our emotions will respond appropriately. For example, if you listen to a slow, sad song, our heartbeat will slow down, sending a message to the brain that something sad is happening. Likewise, if we listen to fast-paced, upbeat music, we begin to invoke feelings of excitement and energy (1).

If you have concerns or worries for someone and their mental health, and they are struggling to open up to you, why not ask them to think of / play a song which resonates with how they are feeling? This can be a very useful tool without directly asking them a question about their mental health.

What is Music Therapy?

Music Therapy is a scientifically proven method in which the American Music Therapy Association has defined as:

The clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship.

Music therapy helps those who find it difficult to communicate, express their emotions in a safe and controlled environment. This could be through singing, moving, dancing or listening to music and has shown to demonstrate improvements in both psychological and physical wellbeing. Music therapy is particularly useful when considering different ethnicities and cultural backgrounds as music, and the coinciding therapy, can be tailored to reflect individual identity.

Music can play a part in non-professional recovery methods too.

I can only draw from my own experience, but I find that there are particular songs that human beings can draw a specific relation to, dependent on their experiences. Conversations about mental health and mental illness are slowly becoming more standardised and accepted, with popular celebrities and public figures speaking out about their experiences, with some translating into song.

When I am having a particularly bad day, I have a playlist of songs that help reground me, and help me to recognise what I am experiencing is not unusual or different, and that everything will be ok.

Warrior - Avril Lavigne

This song resonates with me because it reminds me that I am strong, and will survive each day. Despite some days feeling like a battle, each and every day that I make it through, is one day closer to the end of my 'war'. Survival and thriving is realistic and possible.

Rise Up - Andra Day

I particularly like to sing this one at the top of my lungs as it helps me to really feel the power that is inside of me. The strength and the desire that I have to 'Rise Up' not just for others but for myself too. Hope is such a powerful tool, and surrounding yourself with loved ones who care and are there to support you, can provide you with the extra nudge to keep you going throughout the day.

You Say - Lauren Daigle

To me, this song hits every point in how my mental health is when I am at a low point, feeling worthless, weak, and struggling to truly identify who I am, but having my partner by my side to help me through each day and remind me of who I am, and that I matter, has been such an invaluable asset in my mental health recovery. This song helps me to remember all the times he has been there for me, so that even if he can't support me in a dark moment, when I hear this song I am reminded of what he would say and do if he were there.

OK Not to Be OK - Marshmello & Demi Lovato

'Its OK not to be OK' - one of the most popular and cliché phrases associated with mental ill health, but it is 100% true, particularly when we think about the stigma and discrimination that is still attached to discussing mental health. Demi Lovato, someone who has publicly spoken out about her experiences of Bipolar disorder, really translated her experiences into this song, whilst reminding the listener throughout that feelings of distress, shame and feeling trapped, are ok and normal. It's ok to speak out, and rely on someone to help support you in your times of need.

Music can be such a powerful resource. It can help us communicate, resonate and relate to others in ways we never thought could be verbally accomplished. Music, and its relationship to mental health recovery, is a concept that could definitely be explored further.




2. Smith, E. (2019, October 9). What Is Music Therapy? Can It Benefit Your Mental Health?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2021, January 1 from here

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