Music and Mental Health

Who hasn’t spent hours crying over a broken heart to some minor key maudlin moan, or been uplifted by a rousing chorus, chanted with fellow footie fans to feel united. Who hasn't been moved to tears by the haunting sounds of the background music in a chick flick as the star's one true love leaves for the airport.

Music taps into our inner emotions and for better or worse it can cause fluctuations in our feelings. The BiPolar Bears are just one example of a music outfit that harnesses the power of music to help people’s mental health.

What’s good about music?
Music is thought to enhance intelligence, mental health and boost our immune system. Music often elicits more emotional responses than language. It can help to relax us and the less stressed we are the stronger our immune system is. It can also relax us before we sleep, promoting deeper rest. Music can also be very sociable. Going out dancing with friends helps us feel connected.

Who does music help?
Everyone and anyone! There isn’t one kind of music that’s good for relaxing for every individual; listening to any music which is personally enjoyable is good for your mental health.

What kind of music? What kind of involvement?
Music Therapy is "the planned and creative use of music to attain and maintain health and well being. People of any age or ability may benefit from a music therapy programme regardless of musical skill or background. Music therapy may address physical, psychological, emotional, cognitive and social needs of individuals within a therapeutic relationship. It focuses on meeting therapeutic aims, which distinguishes it from musical entertainment or music education." (Australian Music Therapy Association Inc.).
But you don’t need a formal plan or SMART goals to find music beneficial. Music can have a profound emotional effect on anyone.  

Your level of participation impacts the level of effect. The more actively involved, physically and emotionally, you are with the music, the more you’ll get out of it.

Listening to music
PRO: You can escape into the music and it can be done anywhere by anyone.
CON: Can be isolating and solitary – if you’re feeling bad it could really make you feel rotten... Think emo.

Playing an instrument or singing alone   
PRO: You can pick something to suit your mood.   
CON: Can feel lonely.

Playing an instrument in a group   
PRO: The buzz between band members when the music works is electrifying and guarantees to make you feel connected.   
CON: Any group can have conflict and it becomes about the personalities not the music.

Singing in a group 
PRO: You share the emotion of the song with fellow singers creating a bond with others; the more connected we feel the better our mental health is.
CON: You need self confidence to sing in front of others, which can be hard to summon up if you’re unwell or feeling low.

Why does music help?
Sing-songs... Decades ago, before the advent of the ubiquitous television set, people would gather around the piano and sing. People in times of strife would sing: slave songs, army marching songs. Groups would sing together to get themselves through the tough times and celebrate the bad times.

Jenny Taylor, a singing teacher who worked with the Choir of Hard Knocks, explains why it helps.

“When you’re depressed, you don’t inhale deeply, because you’re closing down on life. When you sing you can’t help but breathe deeply, breathing in life. It makes you feel better physically and emotionally."

by Esther Coleman Hawkins

More Information

Australian Music Therapy Association

Nordoff Robbins Music Therapy

The Music Network for Mental Health

Music. Play for Life– get involved

Music for Health

Our Community

Create a Corporate Choir

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