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Can Music be Damaging to Your Mental Health?

Hi my name’s Jamie, and I use music to manage my moods. No shame, right? Music can be addictive, but at least it's not a drug. Well, a recent study that sought to answer whether music can actually do damage to your mental health really got me thinking.

As a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Music at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland, Emily Carlson asked 123 participants to respond to statements about music listening habits in relation to mental and emotional states using a scale.

The study revealed three main ways that someone may use music to deal with negative emotions:

1) Distraction - when you use music as an escape
2) Comfort - when you use music to feel accepted and less alone
3) Release - when you use music to let out sadness or anger

While the participants listened to pieces of instrumental music that evoked different emotions, Carlson watched their brain activity, particularly in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), where subconscious mood regulation is widely believed to take place.

Release was the most common strategy among men in the study, while the most common coping mechanism among women was distraction. Men showed decreased activity in the mPFC of the brain, which could possibly point to a coping mechanism where you direct negative feelings outwards.

“Carlson notes that it is difficult to draw the line between healthy versus unhealthy expression of negative emotions. Still, the correlation suggests that Discharge is linked with some less healthy emotional habits.”

I’m certainly not a neuroscientist and even if I were, what scientists currently know about the way music effects the brain is still limited, so instead of trying to interpret the results of the study, I’m inclined to think about my own listening habits and those of our music community.

If I look back at my 20-something odd years of music listening and attending shows and festivals, music has historically been an escape for me. Going to a show every night or a festival every other weekend was a way of pressing pause on the stresses of studies/work/etc. for a few precious hours or days before my alarm clock, time card or looming deadline forced me to reluctantly resume and re-enter the real world. And the best part was, I was never alone. I always had a circle of music junkies that I could rely on to indulge in the escapism with me.

But as I got older, things began to change. Escape wasn’t always enough, and maybe that’s a good thing. Music transported me to a new head space, and I think - subconsciously - I began to seek music experiences that would have more of a profound and lasting effect rather than a musical one night stand. This led to a slight disconnection and feeling of detachment from my massive “music fam,” but it also created space for deeper connections and a few less-shallow relationships.

Maybe I’m just growing up or maybe this means I’ve learned how to better manage my emotions… wait, those can’t be it. Maybe it was a few powerful experiences that made the instant gratification feel cheap and fake. Sure, we may use music to escape or discharge or to provide a little solace occasionally (or regularly) for a period of our lives, but maybe this isn't so bad (as long as it doesn't become a crutch, that is). Maybe we believe deep down that it can be more one day, even if we’re not ready for it just yet.

Read more about Carlson's study: http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/11/...

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