Music and Mental Health - World Mental Health Day

The 10th of October is World Mental Health Day and the theme for 2022 is 'Make mental health and wellbeing for all a global priority’. This theme was set by the World Federation for Mental Health, with the aim of providing a chance for us to rethink how we approach mental health and to work towards improving it across the world. While it may seem like, as an individual, we can’t make much of an impact on global mental health, by prioritising our own mental health and that of the people around us, we will all be able to put more energy into fighting for improvements to the services, skills and funding available for mental health across the world.

Mental health problems have been on the rise for years, and even more so after the Covid-19 pandemic. However, mental health is a universal human experience, and we all need to look after our mental health, whether we have specific challenges or not. We all have different methods for looking after our mental health, but one key thing that helps a lot of people and can have a multitude of benefits for our mental health is music.

 

I’m sure most of us would agree that listening to music is usually an enjoyable experience, and I expect at some point we’ve all found that listening to a favourite piece of music has made us feel happier, but what is the science behind this?

In 2011, a study published in Nature Neuroscience found that listening to music actually causes a release of dopamine in the brain at the point of peak emotional arousal, also referred to as the ‘chills’ response, and with the anticipation of that peak emotion (Salimpoor, V. et al., 2011). This shows that music can actually change the chemical balance in our brain and lead to experiences of intense pleasure. While there is still more to discover about the roles dopamine plays in happiness and other emotions, the pleasure gained from listening to music due to dopamine can improve our mood. Also, the sensation of music giving you ‘chills’ isn’t just a metaphor: when we experience ‘chills’, there is an increase of blood flow to the cerebrum and decreases in other particular regions of the brain that reflect the same structures present in response to other euphoria-inducing stimuli like food and sex (Blood, A. J. and Zatorre, R. J., 2001). The fact that music can elicit this level of pleasure shows that, although it is not necessary for the survival of human beings, it could have notable benefits to our wellbeing, both mental and physical (Blood, A. J. and Zatorre, R. J., 2011). 

So if you have a favourite piece of music with a particular section that always gives you chills, now you know that dopamine is being released in your brain! I am in no way suggesting this as a replacement for any kind of medical or psychological treatment for mental health conditions, but if you are having a bit of a down day or feeling particularly stressed, there is a chance that listening to a favourite piece of music could help boost your mood.

 

There is also increasing research into the benefits of listening to and making music for young people. In 2019, Youth Music and Ipsos MORI surveyed 1,001 young people aged 7 to 17 in order to produce a research report titled The Sound of the Next Generation. This report provides important insights into how young people engage with and value music and music-making, and shows what a positive and meaningful impact music has for them (Youth Music, 2020). There were many key findings of the report, but one of the most significant was just how powerful a contributor music is to young people’s wellbeing (Youth Music and Ipsos MORI, 2019). Not only did 85% of the young people surveyed say that listening to music makes them happy, the act of making music has an even bigger impact on young people’s wellbeing (Youth Music and Ipsos MORI, 2019). One reason for this is that making music is often an activity that is undertaken as a group, so it provides an opportunity to connect and communicate with others, and to make new friends, which helps reduce loneliness and in turn improve wellbeing and mental health (Youth Music and Ipsos MORI, 2019). Music plays a huge role in young people’s lives, with 90% of the young people surveyed for this report saying that they listen to music in any given week (Youth Music and Ipsos MORI, 2019). The benefits of music for young people and the positive impact on their mental health and wellbeing that it has should not be underestimated.

 

This is just a brief look at the benefits of music and how we can use it to support and look after our mental health and wellbeing, but the possibilities are endless. World Mental Health Day provides us with a chance to reevaluate our attitudes and practices around mental health, and with this year’s focus on making it a global priority it is more important than ever to consider as many things as possible that can improve and support people’s mental health. In the words of Elton John, ‘[m]usic has healing power’ (uDiscoverMusic, 2020).

How important for you is music in looking after your mental health?

 

References:

Salimpoor, V., Benovoy, M., Larcher, K. et al. (2011) ’Anatomically distinct dopamine release during anticipation and experience of peak emotion to music’, Nature Neuroscience, vol. 14, pp.257–262 [Online]. DOI: 10.1038/nn.2726 (Accessed 2 October 2022).

Blood, A. J. and Zatorre, R. J. (2001) ’Intensely pleasurable responses to music correlate with activity in brain regions implicated in reward and emotion’, PNAS, vol. 98, no. 20 [Online]. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.191355898 (Accessed 2 October 2022).

Youth Music (2020) The Sound of the Next Generation [Online]. Available at: https://youthmusic.org.uk/sound-of-the-next-generation (Accessed 6 October 2022).

Youth Music and Ipsos MORI (2019), The Sound of the Next Generation [Online]. Available at: https://youthmusic.org.uk/sites/default/files/2020-06/The%20Sound%20of%20the%20Next%20Generation.pdf (Accessed 6 October 2022).

uDiscoverMusic (2020) 15 Inspirational Quotes About The Power Of Music [Online]. Available at: https://www.udiscovermusic.com/stories/15-inspirational-quotes-power-music/ (Accessed 6 October 2022).

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