This page has been reviewed and edited by Eualalee Thompson, MSc, PGDip, a trained and practicing psychotherapist and counselor in private practice since 2005. She commonly assists her clients with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress (PTSD), and survival of sexual abuse.
Music may have an affect on depression and bipolar disorder. It can be used in a positive way,
contributing to an improved mood and positive outlook.
On the other hand, excessively listening to music of many genres, as well as listening to negative music, can increase tension and nervousness, as well as contribute to depression. While most studies link music habits to disorders such as depression and anxiety, bipolar disorder may also be affected by music habits.
What is Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depression or manic-depressive disorder, is a mental disorder that presents itself through alternating periods of elation (or mania) and depression, or highs and lows. These shifts in mood and energy level can severely impact the affected individual's important areas of functioning, such as relationships, school, employment, and other social interactions.
The National Institute of Mental Health indicates a 12-month prevalence of 2.6 percent U.S. adults with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. However, it is not unusual for the symptoms of bipolar disorder to first appear in the late teens or early adulthood, with 50 percent of cases starting before age 25 (Kessler, et al, 2005).
The two main forms of bipolar disorder
are Bipolar Disorder I and Bipolar Disorder II. Bipolar Disorder II is the less severe form.
Music Can Be Positively Used as Therapy or in Self-Help
Music can be a deeply emotional experience. Daniel Västfjäll, researcher at the Department of Psychology, Göteborg University, Sweden, notes that, “Music can arouse deep emotions in the listener.” The National Institute of Mental Health observes that many musicians and other creative artists have suffered from the “mood swings” associated with bipolar disorder (NIMH. 2002). There may be higher incidence of mania and depression among musicians, and some studies link those predisposed with bipolar disorder to a higher level of creativity (Jamison. K.R. 2014).
When one connects with a piece of music, the emotional experience resembles a flow of electricity moving from the singer, to the CD or radio, and then to the individual. With this in mind, music therapy uses the various types of music to manage and positively influence people's emotional, physical, and cognitive needs. It is a "planned, goal-directed process" (Peters. 2000), and many researchers have been studying music therapy as a treatment approach for mental illness, including its positive use in treating bipolar disorder and substance abuse in both young people and in adults (Bednarz & Nikkel, 1992).
Music can positively affect people's mental health. It can bring about calm and peaceful feelings, and provides a healthy diversion from the harshness of life. Bednarz & Nikkel (1992) studied the effect of music therapy on mental illness by looking at five interventions: music discussion, music instruction, group participatory music, music listening, and expressive music interventions. The researchers found improvement in the quality of life among the clients exposed to music therapy.
Researchers have also found that music can affect mood. Choi, Soo Lee, & Lim (2008), for example, in a small study of 26 patients with mental illness (including mood disorders), non-randomly assigned patients to a music intervention group or a routine care group. They found that after 15 weekly sessions, those in the music intervention group showed signs of significant improvement with their depression, anxiety, and relationships when compared to the control group.
Music therapist Jacqueline Schmidt Peters, MMT, BC (2000), makes reference to the usefulness of integrating music of varying types in the therapeutic process, and this intervention can be effective on patients with bipolar disorder. The process is simple and goes as follows: after initial assessment and evaluation of a patient, the psychotherapist works with a music therapist to design an intervention with a specific music and rhythmic experience to affect the patient's mood.
Intense Music and its Affect on Emotions
Different types or genres of music can affect people, especially children and teens, in different ways. Listening to music that is alternatively happy and angry, or otherwise emotionally charged, can affect emotions and thus contribute to highs and lows in an adolescent's mood. This seems to be the case for youth who suffer from depression, bipolar disorder, or ADHD.
Much of today's popular music is intense, passionate, and highly charged. Its energy level is high, and when combined with imagery from music videos, can be an intense experience. And for some, it can be overwhelming for the senses, especially when indulged in daily.
Highly charged and sexual music affects children and youth and their mental/emotional well-being. Photo: Pussycat Dolls in concert
The type of music one listens to does have a bearing on mood. In one study, listening to classical music was equated with a “feeling of ease,” whereas listening to heavy metal contributed to “increased feelings of tension and nervousness." (Rea, C., MacDonald, P., Carnes, G. 2010). Emotional response is not limited to classical and heavy metal, but this simply demonstrates contrasting emotional responses from two deeply diverse forms of music.
It is not unusual for today's children and adolescents to spend several hours each day on their iPods or cell phones listening to music, and during other times of the day, watching music videos on the Internet and television. Research indicates that these multiple sources of over-stimulation through music may also affect children and teen’s moods (Primack, B.A., MD, EdM, MS, et al.).
Social Isolation Affects Mood and May Affect Mood Disorders
Another aspect of the retreat into a private musical world is that of the emotional and social isolation that it can offer; many find it an escape from unpleasant situations. The captivating music becomes another world.
"Social isolation" is implicated in one study as the plausible explanation linking increased time on social networking and a tendency towards mood disorders. The 2013 study by Michigan State University researchers indicates that longer hours on Facebook correlates with negative shifts in mood and a lower sense of well-being. The authors conclude that human contact through non-virtual relationships improves mental health, while social isolation often negatively affects various facets of mental health (Kross, E., et al.).
The same idea can be implied when it comes to social isolation caused by excessive music-listening habits—the quantity of time spent listening to music in isolation may have a bearing on mood disorders, especially for those who are predisposed to such issues.
Long hours on a headset connected to your iPod, or more commonly cellphone and YouTube, can affect the mental health of children and teens.
Music is not only about the sound and rhythm, lyrical content is also important when considering music's impact on children and adolescents. Swedish music researcher Daniel Västfjäll notes "the importance of considering the content of lyrics and its effect on mood." This can be the case for those who do not have strong or stable family ties and emotional attachments (Västfjäll, D. 2002).
The sexual messages in much of today's music for children and teenagers have an effect on their outlook, as does the intensity of the music on their mood.
Is it possible that this overstimulation through music exposure negatively affects youths' ability to create or be imaginative? Can music and lyrical content affect children or teens' coping skills, thus making them more vulnerable to mental health crises? These are interesting questions to consider in the context of bipolar disorder and mental health as a whole.
It appears that as with most endeavors, moderation is needed in music, and parents and caregivers need to provide a variety of well-chosen, wholesome music for children and young people who are musically inclined.
Music, Psychology, Bipolar Disorder: Rage, Anger and Desperation
Swedish research Daniel Västfjäll further writes that depressed and anxious moods can be created through music induction; that is, listening to some types of music can result in feelings of depression and anxiety.
Photo: Linkin Park in concert - August 1, 2008 - by Vitor Suarez
Constant exposure to raw or aggressive music may present the mind with little time to rest, placing it in a constant state of overstimulation. The dopamine levels in the brain peak, which leads to this state of overstimulation, thus contributing to highs in mood, with corresponding lows in the absence of this stimulation. Aggressive music can then be a contributing factor in the molding of a child or teen’s worldview and shaping of their personality (Robertson, J. 1998. p. 11,13,19,20,23).
And when this is combined with an unstable family life or other media influences such as violence or pornography, the combined effects can have a powerful influence on destabilizing the mood of adolescents, children, and adults.
While this may not always be the case, the choices and intensity of the music people listen to can affect their moods and be one of many contributing factors towards mood disorder, including depression for some (supported by clinical studies), and bipolar disorder for others.
Conclusion on Music and Bipolar Disorder and Music
If it is agreed that music has a tremendous affect on mood, one can conclude
then, that by limiting music exposure and intensity, changes in emotional impact,
including a lower anger level and calmer disposition, can be achieved. Making healthy
choices in the type of music one listens to is another avenue through which more
stability can be achieved for those predisposed to bipolar disorder and other mental health disorders.
Developmental psychologist Douglas Gentile states that music can affect the mood
of children and teens, and implies that that positive or negative mood of the music
is transmittable; “angry-sounding music” can affect mood, and ideas and values can
also be imparted through the music from the musician to the listener.
Certain forms of rock and roll, for example, may be considered to be an “angry”
genre of music, with some rock music, from the 60’s through today, is noted asas
a protest against perceived injustices; youths imbibe these ideals along with the
anger related to it. Some rock music takes that anger and desperation to extreme
levels, and this might have an even greater emotional impact on teenagers.
Associate professor of history at Youngstown State University David Simonelli
refers to punk rock, for example, as a “revitalizing element that perfectly
captured youth anger” (Simonelli, D. 2013. p. xix). The minds of teenagers are
still developing, adjusting both physically and mentally to new circumstances in
life, and, in their transition from childhood to adulthood.
Based on existing studies, music therapy can be one effective, non-invasive
way to improve mental health, and positive changes in music habits may positively
affect symptoms of depression and bipolar disorder.
In Music and Mind in Everyday Life, by music professors and lecturers at Oxford
University and University of Sheffield, Clarke, Dibben, and Pitts state that music
is “a means for people to alter their mood”, and as a means to achieve a “desired
emotional state” (p. 90). Some choose music that allows them to “ruminate” more
deeply in a negative emotion, while others choose music that helps them achieve
a more positive emotional state, according to the authors.
Discerning choices in quantity and type of music one listens to can be one factor
in achieving greater mood stability, and in self-regulation for bipolar
disorder. Parents should be aware how music may affect their children’s mood,
and both education and regulate their child or teen’s music habits. This principle can be
also applied towards policies in public schools, and in educating youth in habits
contributing towards improved mental health.
References for Bipolar Disorder and Music
Bednarz, L. F. & Nikkel, B. (1992). The role of music therapy in the treatment of
young adults diagnosed with mental illness and substance abuse.
Music Therapy Perspectives
. , 10(1), 21-26. Doi: 10.1093/mtp/10/1/21
Bipolar Disorder in Adults. National Institute of Mental Health
Retrieved March 17, 2015. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/bipolar-disorder-in-adults/index.shtml?rf
Choi, A., Soo Lee, M., & Lim, H. (2008). Effects of group music
intervention on depression, anxiety, and relationships in psychiatric patients:
A pilot study. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine
14(5), 567-570. doi: 10.1089/acm.2008.0006
Clark, E., Dibbon, N., Pitts, S., (2009). Music and Mind in Everyday Life. Oxford University Press.
Facts on Bipolar Disorder. (2004, October 25). National Institute on Mental
Gentile, D. “Is listening to negative lyrics or “angry” music really
harmful to my child?” Baby Center Expert Advice
. Retrieved March 20, 2015.
Jamison, K. R. (2014, August 15). Bipolar disorder and the creative mind. CNN.
Kessler, R.C., Berglund, P., Demler, O., Jin, R., Merikangas, K. R., Walters,
E. E. (2005). Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of DSM-IV
disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Archives
of General Psychiatry.
, 62(6), 593-602.
Kross, E., Verduyn, P., Demiralp, e., Park, J., Lee, D. S., Lin, N.
Shablack, H., Jonides, J., Ybarra O. (2013, August 14). Facebook Use
Predicts Declines in Subjective Well-Being in Young Adults. PLOS ONE.
Peters, J.S. (2000). Music therapy: An introduction. Charles C.
Thomas Publishers, Ltd.
: Springfield, IL.
Primack, B.A., MD, EdM, MS; Silk, J.S., PhD; DeLozier, C. BS; Shadel,
W. G., PhD; Dillman-Carpentier, F. R., PhD; Dahl, R. E., MD; Switzer,
G. E., PhD. (2011, April 4). Using Ecological Momentary Assessment to
Determine Media Use by Individuals With and Without Major Depressive Disorder.
JAMA Pediatrics. 2011;165(4):360-365. https://archpedi.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=384518
Rea, C., MacDonald, P., Carnes, G. Listening to classical, pop, and metal
music: An investigation of mood. Emporia State Research Studies.
Vol. 46, no. 1, p. 1-3 (2010).
Robertson, J. (1998). Natural Prozac: Learning to Release Your Body's
Own Anti-Depressants. NY: HarperOne.
Simonelli, D. (2013). Working Class Heroes: Rock Music and British Society
in the 1960s and 1970s. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.
Västfjäll, D. (2002, January 1). Emotion Induction Through Music: A Review
of the Musical Mood Induction Procedure. Academia.edu
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