How Music Helps With Mental Health Issues

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Kurt Cobain, frontman of a 1990s grunge band named Nirvana, once said:

“In Webster’s terms, ‘nirvana’ means freedom from pain, suffering and the external world, and that’s pretty close to my definition of Punk Rock.”

The idea that punk rock – a music associated with anger and rebellion which sometimes erupts into violence – can indeed be compared with the tranquillity of nirvana may be ridiculous to some. For many, though, punk and other forms of alternative and hard rock do indeed offer s great deal of freedom and some kind of peace, if not as much of those as the Buddhist ideal state to which the name of Cobain’s band is identical.

An article published by the University of Queensland in June 2015 stated, “Extreme music – such as heavy metal – can positively influence those experiencing anger, a study by The University of Queensland has revealed. In contrast to previous studies linking loud and chaotic music to aggression and delinquency, research by UQ’s School of Psychology honours student Leah Sharman and Dr Genevieve Dingle showed listeners mostly became inspired and calmed.”

However, it’s not just certain “extreme” genres that can help us deal with mental discomfort or illness. While heavier songs like the harder components of Foo Fighters’ albums or the raw emotion of Eminem’s angrier material have helped me through certain times, gentler songs like Coldplay’s ‘Lovers in Japan’ or certain classical pieces have also helped in a different way, with the former inspiring me while in hospital and reminding me through its lyrics and upbeat delivery that there was still hope.

Please forgive me if this seems to be a patronising statement of the blatantly obvious, but celebrity musicians are people just like us. That is something we sometimes forget. This means they often share experiences with many humans. From an angry argument with bandmates to witnessing the mental breakdown or suicide of a friend or relative, there’s almost nothing in the history of human experience that has never confronted any musician at all. The fact that musicians are still human means that they can often express truths that many can relate to and create that which we may enjoy, no matter how high up they climb on the ladder to riches, fame and success.

Despite these abilities and similarities, life can still be hard for musicians. Even as an amateur who practices pretty often but without the pressures of fame or packed touring schedule, I can, in a limited way, testify to that truth. Furthermore, the apparently more fortunate in the music world can have more difficulty than the many on the outside. According to The Guardian, Marc Marot, a former UK record label boss and chairman of Crown Talent Management said in May 2016, “If there’s one thing that’s for sure, it’s that success and adulation never made any human being any more normal.” Therefore, it is clear that the ability to play music is not everything. Indeed, there is no magic key to constant satisfaction; even a band as successful as The Rolling Stones knows this.

However, music certainly provides hope to many. In addition to being helped simply by listening to music, I have found playing musical instruments the most useful way of blocking out voices heard by myself but no-one else. This coping mechanism has also helped me to build confidence and other skills amongst other things. I also find playing guitar and bass increases my energy and allows me to rest from activities like writing.

Life would certainly not be the same without music. Chad Smith, long-time drummer with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, stated in 2013, “If I didn’t have music education in school, I probably would have ended up in jail or dead. And instead I ended up in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.” Examples like Smith’s story demonstrate that music can enhance and sustain human existence.

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