Music and Mental Health
Clinical Psychiatry News: Music and Mental Health
Written Sept 2008
By H. Steven Moffic
Posted by Justine
Dr. Moffic is a professor of psychiatry and behavioral medicine, as well as family and community medicine, at the Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. Moffic states that he hadn't thought much about Musics relationship to mental health and psychiatric ethics until he recently came across two news items: the first was a "60 Minutes" segment originally broadcast on April 13 about the outstanding success of the Simon Bolivar National Youth Orchestra in Venezuela, and the speech that renowned neurologist and author Dr. Oliver Sacks gave the Convocation of Fellows address at the American Psychiatric Association's 2008 annual meeting on May 5 that focused on his 2007 book, "Musicophila: Tales of Music and the Brain." He states the people in the U.S currently spend more money on music then they do on medication. Despite its importance he says that music is peripheral to modern psychology and it is not generally part of a the routine diagnostic and treatment processes. When we start from the beginning there is evidence that music preceeded language as a tool of communication and we see how important it has been throughout history. One of the first important social roles for music was as a means of healing. Healing could come from the rhythmic, harmonic, and/or melodic aspects of the music, as well as from the placebo effect we see in psychiatry. There also has been the opposite idea of using music to do harm. We now have a better understanding of the social and pschycological experiences of music. “It seems that music, more than language, taps into primitive brain structures involved with motivation, reward, and emotion. Of course, when words are added to instrumental music, the meaning of the words also is processed in the cerebral cortex. The emotional centers turn out to be not only in the suspected limbic system but also in the heretofore unsuspected cerebellum. The cerebellum, therefore, is hugely involved in the emotional and movement response to music.” Listening to music is said to release dopamine in the nuclea accumbens and Dr. Claudius Conrad suggests that music might stimulate a growth hormone. At the 2007 meeting of the Society for Neuro-science, researchers from Alzahra University in Tehran, Iran, reported on a study examining whether music might help alleviate depression. They were able to report that depressed patients who listened to Beethoven's 3rd and 5th piano sonatas twice a week saw their Beck Depression scales go down significantly. Findings from the previously mentioned National Youth Orchestra in Venezuela are startling. This system uses classical music as the "vehicle for social change" among the country's 500,000 or so poor youth. According to 60 Minutes gang activity is way down and self-esteem is up. When dealing with patients who have a hard time communicating verbally, music can be used for self healing through listening or performing. Being exposed to joyous music can elevate mood and mental health.
I really enjoyed this article as it gives me a good view of a psychiatrist’s thoughts on the subject of music and depression, which pertains to my essay. Yes music changes lives, this is not some new revelation, this has been known for quite some time. So why not use music to help heal the ill and pained ones. His statement that the people in the U.S currently spend more money on music then they do on medication is a little bit surprising and at the same time not. Nowadays with the pirating of music I seriously doubt this statement but it probably was true 5 to 10 years ago. One of the great aspects of music especially for those who can’t afford expensive drugs and health care is that music is virtualy free! If you already know how to play an instrument and are creative composing or learning new repertoire to play is free if you don’t require a teacher. Also if you don’t know how to play an instrument singing is something that everyone can do. If you own a cd player and some cd’s then singing along to them is free as well. The internet is full of free music, music lessons and sheet music to play from. Believe what you want but when you really think about it, music was given to all of us as a gift. Some choose to use it and others choose not to. Some people get enough satisfaction from listening to music and others get more of a “fix” by actually learning how to play music and or perform it for others. For some music is just as addicting as a drug or alcohol. So Moffic’s statement now doesn’t seem so surprising…music is a type of medication! I think therapists such as Moffic should seriously think about using music as a form of therapy, even if they are not musically inclined. They really don’t have to be, they just need to know what music to use in their therapy so that it stimulates the correct part of their patients brain. Depression is caused by low seratonin in the brain which its purpose is to help regulate other neurotransmitter systems, and decreased serotonin activity may allow these systems to act in unusual and erratic ways. When serotonin levels are low this promotes low levels of norepinephrine, another monoamine neurotransmitter. Some antidepressants also enhance the levels of norepinephrine directly, whereas others raise the levels of dopamine, a third monoamine neurotransmitter. As Moffic states “listening to music is said to release dopamine in the nuclea accumbens and Dr. Claudius Conrad suggests that music might stimulate a growth hormone.” As I do more research for my essay I know that music does more than just release dopamine and that it affects not just one or two areas of the brain but all over. Music could be the miracle drug we have all been waiting for!