Music has always been an instinctive crutch for people to lean on. In the colonial 1800’s, we have written accounts of African slaves joining together in song as they worked throughout the day. These songs would help the slaves deal with their pain by helping pass the time, and giving them an actual physical release in the form of their voice. These songs also helped to spread a collective message of hope throughout the slave community. If the slaves are singing together, then they still have each other. Another example of music being used therapeutically can be seen in the US Military. When a soldier dies, the U.S. Military plays “Taps” at the soldier’s funeral. The song is played for every soldier as way to recognize them for their courage, as well as to distinguish them from any normal person. These were soldiers, and the song helps them to be remembered as such. Going even further, the US military actually hired musical therapists to perform for wounded soldiers recovering from injuries suffered in World War II. The therapists were a hit among the soldiers, and the practice became fairly common.
Of course, music is not the only known healing device in the world, nor is it the most commonly used. As science progresses, advancements in the medical field keep introducing themselves. Among them are new surgical techniques, new tools to use while in surgery, and new medicines. Another common medical practice is therapy. Therapy was once considered something closer to witchcraft than medicine. Ok, maybe not witchcraft, but it’s credibility was in question. However, over time, studies showed that it was indeed effective, and now it is accepted by Doctors as a valid medical practice. Therapy can include physical therapy, but types of therapy designed for the mind and emotion are more relevant to the discussion, such as Psychotherapy and Emotional Counseling. The acceptance of newfound therapeutic routes comes hand-in-hand with more attention being paid to a patient’s mental health, and not just their physical health. As a result, medicine has been designed specifically to treat patients with mental health related disorders, such as depression and anxiety.
According to Siddhartha Mukherjee of The New York Times, the FDA approved of the drug Prozac in 1988. It was created as an “anti-depressant,” which is pretty self explanatory. After it’s first year on the market, Prozac had filled 2,469,000 prescriptions. People were ecstatic about the results of Prozac. According to John Markowitz, a Professor of Pharmacy at the University of Florida, it was a hit because it was the safest anti-depressant on the market. Previous antidepressants were incredibly unpredictable. The drug was hard to dose correctly, because it was extremely volatile, and side effects were hard to control. Patients were even overdosing from amounts of the drug that were previously thought non-lethal. Prozac is a much more controlled substance, however. Because of this, Prozac was seen as a safer route out of depression.
Prozac’s popularity continued to grow. Tony Soprano started using it on TV, and regular Americans considered it effective, and even life-changing for some. In the 1994 novel Prozac Nation, Elizabeth Wurtzel talks about her positive experiences on the drug. Before trying prozac, Wurtzel was, by her own despcription, living in “a computer program of total negativity . . . an absence of affect, absence of feeling, absence of response, absence of interest.” After starting Prozac, however, she recalls miraculously waking up one morning and not feeling depressed anymore. Wurtzel states
“One morning I woke up and really did want to live. . . . It was as if the miasma of depression had lifted off me, in the same way that the fog in San Francisco rises as the day wears on. Was it the Prozac? No doubt.”
By 2002, the number of Prozac prescriptions in the United States had risen to over 33 million. And by 2008, anti-depressants had become the 3rd most prescribed type of drug in America. This could be because of a lot of outside factors. In reality, the 2000’s were loaded with a lot of stress-inducing events. The attacks at 9/11 left a nation in shock and dismay, while also heightening our attention on the Middle East. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would not let up. And to make things worse, the collapse of the Housing Market in 2008 introduced the Recession. In the face of unprecedented societal issues, as well as the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression, its reasonable to understand why more people were seeking prescription drugs like Prozac.
After anti-depressant prescriptions had really hit their peak, people began to seriously question the drug’s abilities. Evaluating Prozac 20 years after the drug’s introduction can provide us with an ample amount of studies to take information from. With more people using anti-depressants than ever, it was also always more likely for new complaints and side-effects to be reported. The lack of progress in treating what it was prescribed for combined with newer drugs led to the downfall of Prozac. By the 2010’s, anti-depressant usage was even being discouraged by some doctors. Psychologist Irving Kirsch referred to anti-depressants as nothing more than sugar-pill placebos, not equipped to deal with the more complex psychological issues of individuals that may require much more than a pill to get a grip on what the problem really is.
Some doctors even began to start re-thinking the logic behind how anti-depressant’s work as a whole. Depression has always been thought to be caused by a lack of serotonin in the brain. As serotonin levels diminished, depression kicked in. Thus, drugs were created around the goal of producing more serotonin for the brain.
When doctor’s actually began looking at the serotonin levels in depressed patients, they saw that serotonin levels really were not that low. But the people being medicated were still depressed. Thus, the theory that depression relied strictly on serotonin levels was debunked.
Even more research showed that serotonin IS in fact a big part of determining mood, but only as an ingredient in the recipe. But, the drugs did improve our understanding of depression. So, although Prozac might not be the answer that so many people thought it was during the 1980’s, anti-depressants can still be used effectively.
Whats interesting now is finding out the other ingredients besides prescription medication that make up the Anti-Depression soup. If the drugs are not enough, then pursuing everything else is the only option. Like stated earlier, modern medicine has opened up different means of therapy to the world. Group-style counseling groups consisting of people undergoing similar hardships have been introduced. One-to-one therapy with a Psychologist can also be effective.
And then there is the use of music. Yes, music has actually been used to curb signs of depression. According to EverydayHealth.com, listening to music can help the body produce dopamine, which is a chemical that has to do with controlling behavior. Also, the rhythm of the songs helps to provide a rhythm for breathing, which can help control heartbeat and other bodily functions.
A study done by the British Journal of Psychiatry showed even more evidence of musical therapy being effective when treating patients with depression. In the study of 79 patients with depression, 46 of them received standard care, which included anti-depressants, psychotherapy sessions, and psychiatric counseling. the remaining 33 received the same treatment, as well as 20 different hour-long musical therapy sessions. The group that participated in the musical therapy reportedly showed lower rates of depression than the group who hadn’t, as well as more improvements in day-to-day functions.
So, is music the cure for depression? No, but neither are anti-depressants. Taking one or the other will not rid anybody of their depression. Nobody really knows what can. But, one thing is for sure: These are definitely two ingredients in the complex recipe that we are continuously improving upon to fight depression. As time and science move forward, we can only continue to try all resources at our disposal, and continue to see what improvements can be made in the coming future.
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/.
Hatton, Randy C. “25 Years after Prozac.” Home, Pharmacist.com, 1 May 2013, http://www.pharmacist.com/25-years-after-prozac.
Mukherjee, Siddhartha. “Post-Prozac Nation.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 19 Apr. 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/22/magazine/the-science-and-history-of-treating-depression.html.