Since I am researching the influence drugs may have on music, with an effort to better understand why someone may try or regularly use drugs, I must also research the opposite. Drugs and Music are so commonly intertwined that there is no telling which may have been inspired by which. Every situation is different. Thus, I must also research why drugs may be used as a compliment to music, as much as I try to find information on how music may compliment drugs. Should I look for statistics that show a direct relationship between certain musical preferences and increased drug use, or should I try to find information on how a certain artist’s album sales spiked parallel to the growth in popularity of a particular drug? Both? This entire topic is basically causal, or I am trying to determine if it is or isn’t.
Music is Therapeutic
If you’ve ever read Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave, or, if you’ve been inside any kind of history class between now and whenever school began for you, you probably know that slaves weren’t treated with much care. Slaves were not considered people, and because of this, they were given expired food, rough clothing (if any at all), and had no bed to sleep in. Days were excruciatingly long, and would a lot of times involve a whipping or two. Basically, life was painful. The mind of the American slave is one of a depressed but naive soul, searching for a release from the pain they experience everyday, but not really knowing what else it is that they can do.
Slave owners would seldom give any thought to how their slaves were feeling. They were property to the owner, and would be treated as such. However, one conclusion slave owners did jump to is that “a singing slave is a happy slave”. Out in the fields, slaves were known to sing songs to pass the time. The songs would often contain religious undertones, as well as references to death and freedom. In reality, the owners were somewhat correct, but also horribly off point in their assumptions. Slaves sang out of hope and despair, not happiness. The songs themselves contained lyrics that pointed to something great and achievable, if the slavery part of life ever ends. It was within these songs that slaves found strength and hope, even in the most painful parts of their days.
In more recent instances, we actually see Medical Professionals utilize music to help with the healing process. After World War II, music therapy was introduced to soldiers combatting PTSD. Having seen what they had seen and done what they had done at war, it was a serious challenge for a veteran to re-enter society.
Community musicians began to visit veteran hospitals to play for those suffering from physical and emotional trauma. Nurses and doctors noted the positive physical and emotional response—how the hymns and melodies reached patients in ways that traditional therapies were unable to — and began to hire musicians for the hospitals. (Borchard)
While hearing a song might not heal a bullet wound or cure polio, it was accepted by Doctor’s as a way of keeping spirit’s high and improving mood. A few years later, the NAMT (National Association for Musical Therapy) was founded. This provided training and certification to people who wanted to become a musical therapist.
As time passed, the willingness to admit to and receive treatment for one’s mental health became more widely accepted. The emotional trauma experienced by the soldiers after the war is now commonly seen as being a result of PTSD, Anxiety, or Depression, among other illnesses. Once the stigmas surrounding mental health began to fade, these moods were finally seen for what they are: Illness.
The realization that mental illnesses are just as real as physical illnesses brought with it a more open mind for people in the Medical Field to use when treating patients. Patients suffering from mental illness now have a variety of therapeutic options to help alleviate their symptoms. Doctors now advise the use of Psychotherapy, Psychiatric Counseling, and antidepressant medicine. However, studies still indicate that the use of Music can still be vital in treating Mental Health. In 2011, for example, a study conducted by the British Journal of Psychiatrist focused on 79 patients who had depression. All of the patients received standard care, which included Psychotherapy, Counseling, and Antidepressants. However, 33 of the patients also went to weekly musical therapy sessions, while the other 46 did not. After three months, the 33 who participated in the musical therapy as well as the standard therapy showed much more improvement in their Depression, as well as their everyday functions.
But, how does Music Therapy actually help depression? Well, listening to music actually provides a blueprint for the listener to control their breathing to, as they hone in on the rhythm of the song. Getting control of breathing can slow one’s heart-rate, and greatly alleviate tension in the body and calm someone down. Once the patient is calm, it is easier for the Doctor to converse with the patient about whatever it is the patient wants to say. Engagement with music also makes the body produce more dopamine, the chemical in our brain that transmits information, and controls a lot of our emotions (Bookshire). Dopamine is also hugely associated with reward-based behavior. In simpler terms, Musical therapy can help fight depression and anxiety by making it easier for the patient to breath, so that it may become easier for the patient to discuss their emotions more authentically.
Nowadays, it’s become a part of our culture to listen to the right song in our time of need. When my friend passed away two years ago, I found comfort in listening to a few of the songs he really liked, even though I didn’t really like them. But, every time I hear the song “Post to Be” by Omarion, I can’t really help but think of all the drives to practice where I would just sit there and pretend to laugh (even though I didn’t like the song), and he would bust a move to it as if the driver’s seat were a dance floor. Every time I hear that song, It’s like the best and worst feelings come rushing back to me. So, personally, I don’t need to read a study to make me believe that music can help people. I have my own life and emotions, and I experience what I experience everyday. As does everybody. Pain is so hard to pinpoint. What one person is feeling can be completely and utterly unique, in comparison to any other person on this Earth. Thankfully, we live in a society that recognizes the need of the individual, so there are countless kinds of medicine, therapies, and treatments available to us all. What may work for one person, may not work for the next person, and vice versa. That is why it is important to keep an open mind, seek help, and give music a shot if you’re ever feeling down.
Borchard, Therese. “How Music Therapy Can Relieve Depression.” EverydayHealth.com, Everyday Health, 4 May 2017, http://www.everydayhealth.com/columns/therese-borchard-sanity-break/music-therapy-to-relieve-depression/.
Brookshire, Bethany. “Explainer: What Is Dopamine?” Science News for Students, 17 Jan. 2017, http://www.sciencenewsforstudents.org/article/explainer-what-dopamine.
Douglass, Frederick, and Celeste-Marie Bernier. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. Broadview Press, 2018.
Erkkilä, Jaakko, et al. “Individual Music Therapy for Depression: Randomised Controlled Trial | The British Journal of Psychiatry.” Cambridge Core, Cambridge University Press, 2 Jan. 2018, http://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/the-british-journal-of-psychiatry/article/individual-music-therapy-for-depression-randomised-controlled-trial/A1CD72904929CECCB956F4F3B09605AF.