Is there a link between music and mental health? From the recent tragedy of Amy Winehouse to the more historical struggle of Beethoven, we repeatedly hear of the battles that musicians face with problems such as anxiety and depression. These problems are often due to the high intensity lifestyle of touring and fame, but is it possible that music can be the solution to this problem?
One might argue that if history’s most creative musicians can suffer so greatly at the hands of mental disorders, then music cannot be a source of relief for these problems. But the link between music and emotion is one of bitterness and elation; the ironic truth is that the music some of these troubled artists have created is actually used as a type of therapy to help sufferers overcome those very same conditions. Mozart’s final years, for instance, were littered with periods of crippling depression, yet the music he created is a well-known and often practiced source of therapy for those battling with depression. Perhaps one could argue then that it is not creativity or the music itself that is at the root of these mental health problems, but rather the culprit is the pressure that the artists face in their stressful lifestyle and the overwhelming fame that often accompanies it.
We’ve all had times when all you need is a bottle of wine and The Very Best of James Blunt
Music and emotion go hand in hand. It motivates us, angers us, and relaxes us, all depending on the kind of music we’re listening to. We’ve all had times when all you need is a bottle of wine and The Very Best of James Blunt, or times when a classic like Darude’s ‘Sandstorm’ has been a necessity to heighten your mood ready for a night out. Music can be a tool which we utilise to manipulate our emotions, it can be used to both enhance them and to change them. With this power to shape our emotions, it holds a unique ability as an external power that can affect our mental state, and therefore has a direct effect on our mental health. Because of this ability, music is used as therapy spanning across a range of mental disorders such as insomnia, anxiety, and depression. The internet is teeming with albums and playlists catered for exactly this purpose: to help you sleep, to help your mind relax, to help you concentrate.
The music itself is not the only thing that can be used as a tool of therapy to improve mental wellbeing: the creative act of making the music itself has also been linked to improvements in mental health. Music therapy classes offer a chance to improvise and create music in order to improve cognitive functions and emotional development. This also gives the impression that perhaps the link works the other way round; it seems reasonable to suggest that your mental health has an effect on the music you create. Justin Vernon of Bon Iver for instance tells the story of escaping to a remote cabin in the woods of Wisconsin for three months during a time of personal mental turmoil. It was from this cabin that he wrote the incredibly moving album, For Emma, Forever Ago. It is arguable that this period of mental hardship gave him the creative means to make this piece of art, whilst at the same time this act of creating gave him the required therapy to overcome the emotional problems he was experiencing at the time. Either way, the link between music and mental health is undeniable and something that is universally beneficial to sufferers of mental health problems.