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Friday, February 1, 2019

Sound Health: Music and Mental Illness

mental illness
Music is part of the fabric of life. The medium has the power to inspire, enrage, calm, and heal. It is safe to say that most individuals would have a challenging time living without music in their lives. While people need to be cautious about which artists they listen to in early recovery (i.e., avoiding triggers), there is ample evidence suggesting the art form has therapeutic value.

When people enter treatment for mental illness, clinicians advise clients to avoid any music that may trigger cravings and symptoms that can derail their mission. If you listened to a lot of Grateful Dead before attempting recovery, it makes sense that you’d steer clear from their sounds. At least early on in the process.

Those new to recovery often discover that their taste in music has changed, perhaps the result of drugs and alcohol no longer influencing their thoughts. The healing mind may develop new preferences, which is a good thing. Adopting new behaviors and traditions aids the process of recovering from mental illness significantly. The life one leads in recovery is likely to be a complete change from their prior existence.

Many individuals find out who they “really” are upon being in recovery for even a short time. Changing interests and preferences is, in many ways, a natural progression of the healing process. And, music can become a source of comfort when stress takes hold; it can even be a method of coping with the symptoms of mental illness. Neuroscientists are taking a closer look at the healing power of music right now.

Sound Health


The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has found evidence that music can have a profound effect on a vast range of health conditions, from depression to pain management. Such discoveries, et alia, has led the NIH to partner with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts to enhance our understanding of the bond between music and mental health, The New York Times reports. The project is called Sound Health.

“The payoff,” says Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, is to “improve mental health. We know music shares brain areas with movement, memory, motivation and reward. These things are hugely important to mental health, and researchers are trying to use this same concept of an alternate pathway to address new categories of mental disorders.” 

The late Dr. Oliver Sacks, writing in Musicophilia, noted that music can “calm us, animate us, comfort us, thrill us, or serve to organize and synchronize us at work or play, [but] it may be especially powerful and have great therapeutic potential for patients with a variety of neurological conditions.”

Music Heals Minds and Counters Stigma


Musicians, with a history of mental illness, have proven Oliver Sacks words to be accurate in many ways. Orchestral conductor, Ronald Braunstein, a former winner of the prestigious Karajan International Conducting Competition, has had struggles with mental illness in adulthood, according to the article. Mr. Braunstein has bipolar disorder, a severe mental health condition if left untreated. His mental illness almost spelled the end of his career until he met Caroline Whiddon, the chairwoman of the Youth Orchestra Division of the League of American Orchestras. Whiddon contends with depression and anxiety disorder.

The two accomplished musicians both understood the positive impact that music had on their mental health disorders. A realization that led Braunstein and Whiddon to create an orchestra in Vermont in 2011 that would essentially counter the stigma of mental illness. The Me2/Orchestra (not affiliated with the Me Too Movement) brings musicians with mental illnesses together to perform. Since the inception of Me2/Orchestra, affiliate orchestras have popped up all over the country.

To be sure, the music venture helps musicians with mental illness, but it also provides a forum for the public to discuss diseases of the mind. Audience members are invited to ask the musicians questions about mental illness at each performance, the article reports. All the professional musicians involved in the project are volunteers.

“Instead of thinking people with mental illnesses are lazy or dangerous, they see what we’re capable of,” Mr. Braunstein said. “It has a positive effect on all of us.”


Pismo Beach Co-Occurring Disorder Treatment


The Haven at Pismo offers clients living with addiction and co-occurring mental illnesses like bipolar disorder, depression, and anxiety a full continuum of care. Please take the first steps toward a life in recovery by contacting us today to learn more about our programs.