May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Because of this, I’m challenging myself to write a post every week on a different topic related to mental health. Last week I wrote about how your mental health can affect your overall health through your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. This week I’m looking at how music therapy can be an effective way of treating mental illness.
Mental Illness Is More Common Than You May Think
Oftentimes when people think about mental illness, they think about disorders like schizophrenia or bipolar disorders. Yet mental illness is more than these two disorders. According to Mental Health America, “mental illnesses are brain-based conditions that affect thinking, emotions, and behaviors.”
As such, mental illness affects many more people than just those 3.2 million in the U.S. with a diagnosis of schizophrenia. The truth of the matter is that anxiety and depression are the most common mental illnesses in the United States. These mental illnesses affect people of all ages and genders.
Furthermore, even if a person isn’t formally diagnosed with an anxiety disorder or clinical depression, everybody is prone to some feelings of anxiety or depression at some point in their life. Therefore, I’m going to be looking at music therapy as a way of treating these common mental illnesses.
Some Facts About Anxiety and Depression
But before I go into that more fully, I want you to know some facts about anxiety and depression.
It’s important to understand that anxiety can be a normal and healthy emotion. It’s normal to feel nervous, fearful, apprehensive, or worried at times. However, it becomes a problem when these feelings become excessive.
When this is the case, a person may have an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders include:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder
- Panic Disorder
- Social Anxiety Disorder
- Specific Phobias
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
As the most common mental illness in the U.S., anxiety disorders affect many people of all ages.
- Approximately 40 million adults in the United States have an anxiety disorder (18% of the population).
- Estimates suggest that 31.9% of adolescents have an anxiety disorder.
- For older adults, anxiety disorder rates fall somewhere between 3-14%. However, over 27% exhibit some symptoms of anxiety that negatively affects their lives.
Depression often goes hand-in-hand with anxiety. Nearly half of those with a diagnosis of depression also have an anxiety disorder. As the second most common mental illness in the U.S., it may surprise you to learn that depression is the greatest source disability worldwide.
- It’s thought that around 16.2 million adults in the United States have experienced a major depressive episode in the last year (about 7% of the population).
- According to results from the 2017 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, approximately 27% of student respondents in the Boulder Valley School District report feeling “sad or hopeless.”
- Depression rates vary among older adults. For those living independently in the community, depression rates are very low. Rates get higher for those who require home health care assistance.
Depression disorders include:
- Major Depressive Disorder, which is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. for people ages 15-44.
- Persistent Depressive Disorder, which affects about 3.3 million adults in the U.S.
Treating Mental Illness with Music Therapy
As I’ve written in previous posts, music can impact us in a variety of ways. Music affects us physically, as well as emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Because of this, music therapy can be a useful means for treating mental illness, including anxiety and depression.
For example, music therapy can assist in facilitating the expression of emotions. Sometimes it can be difficult to find the words to express how you’re feeling. Or maybe you lack the energy to explain to others how you’re feeling. There might even be shame around how you’re feeling.
Music can provide those words. Music can capture those feelings so that they can be expressed in a way that feels manageable. This can be done through the act of making music or listening to music.
Examine Your Experience
Sometimes your thoughts are the problem. For example, catastrophizing can make your situation seem to be worse than it really is. Other times your perspective or thoughts on a situation may be adversely affected by your past experiences. In situations like this, it can be helpful to examine your thoughts.
Music can be a way to do this. It can serve as a way to not only get your thoughts out there, but it can help you re-frame your thoughts and perspectives. Some ways this can be done through music is through song-writing and music-facilitated discussion.
Reconnecting to the Joy of Life in the Present Moment
Oftentimes it can be difficult to remain open to the present moment. This is especially true when you’re feeling anxious or depressed. It’s an uncomfortable feeling that most of the time we’re trying to escape from, so why would anyone want to be present to it?
Yet, by being able to touch into the present moment, you can see your situation for what it is. When you can do this, you can also start to identify new opportunities, resources, or perspectives that you may have otherwise missed. This, in turn, can help you to feel more alive, less anxious and less depressed.
Again, music can help with this. Making music and singing are great ways of being able to reconnect with yourself in the present moment. Likewise, research suggests that singing can reduce feelings of depression and anxiety.
Lastly, music therapy can assist with treating mental illness by helping to reduce stigma. As I recently wrote here, music therapy can be fun in spite of being therapy. Because of this, people may feel less stigma around receiving mental health support through music therapy.
Looking for Help?
I hope that this helps illustrate how and why music therapy can be helpful in treating mental illness. If you or someone you know is experiencing mental illness, including anxiety or depression, and looking for help, let me know. I would be happy to talk with you more about how music therapy might help in your situation.
As well, feel free to reach out if you’re already working with a psychiatrist or another therapist and would like to incorporate music therapy into your treatment. Music therapy can be a wonderful adjunctive therapy and I have a lot of experience working as part of a multidisciplinary healthcare team. I would be happy to talk more with your care team about what music therapy has to offer.