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Music and mental health

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Dr. Adeoye Oyewole

There is a huge difference between music and noise not only in concept but experientially. Music can be defined as a group of sounds that have been deliberately produced to make a regular pattern, but noise is usually a group of sounds with no regular pattern. Music is enjoyable and very pleasant as it helps to fully relax the person but noise is disturbing and can actually make people very nervous. Music is capable of affecting a person’s thoughts, feelings and behavior and has been shown to assist with managing stress, expressing emotion and improving communication.

There is no doubt that listening to your favorite music can instantly put you in a good mood. Music works on the autonomic nervous system which is the part of the nervous system responsible for controlling blood pressure, heartbeat and brain function and also the limbic system; the part of the brain that controls feelings and emotions. When slow rhythms are played, our heartbeat slows down which helps us breathe more slowly thus reducing muscle and psychological tension. Music is an integral part of our wellbeing since we were fetuses in our mother’s womb listening to her heart beat and breathing rhythms.

Music releases endorphins which are ‘feel good’ hormones that give motivation to carry on with life irrespective of our experiences. In profound memory loss, Music can actually help patients remember tunes that help them link up with their history since the part of the brain which processes music is located next to memory. Anyone who has ever wiped tears away from their eyes listening to their favorite song linked to a sad occurrence will know how powerful music could be. Our reactions and preference for music varies from person to person. One individual may love heavy metal for example, while another is happiest listening to classical; the bottom line is that your music must make you feel good about yourself. Music helps the brain cortex to generate specific brain waves that can induce different states of alertness, depending on what we aim to do.

Music is a very powerful tool in mental health either as a means of communication and self-expression or for its inherent restorative qualities. Someone who is experiencing some depressive feelings may find that an appropriate music can act as an outlet for expressing things they are unable to put it into words. It can also act as a stimulus to awaken buried memories or evoke emotional responses that may take weeks to achieve with talking therapies. According to a 2011 survey from a mental health charity; nearly a third of people are plugged into their music players to give them a mood boost about work and almost one in four use music to handle stress.

Music therapy is an allied health profession and one of the expressive therapies, consisting of a process in which music and all of its facets – physical, emotional, social and aesthetics, and even its spiritual value help clients improve their health. Music therapists help patients improve their health in several domains such as cognitive functioning, motor skills, emotional development, social skills and quality of life by using music experiences such as free improvisation, singing, listening to, discussing and responding to music to achieve treatment goals. The application of music therapy is wide which include developmental issues involving communication and motor skills with individuals with special needs, songwriting and listening in reminiscence work with the elderly, processing and relaxation work and rhythmic entertainment for physical rehabilitation in stroke patients. Music therapy can also find application in cancer centers, alcohol and drug recovery programs and correctional facilities.

In children with autism; music helps their brains to respond in a more socially useful way through constructive repetitive stimuli from the lyrics. On average, adolescents listen to approximately 4.5 hours of music per day and are responsible for 70% of pop music sales. They obtain many benefits including emotional, social as Music provides a sense of independence that contributes to their self-discovery and identity. Music education programs provide adolescents with a safe place to express themselves and learn life skills such as self-discipline, diligence and patience. This is a serious challenge for parents who must creatively engage the world of their teenagers to ascertain that their brands of music will promote sound mental health rather than those that could inflame their sexual orgies and get them to experiment with drugs and indiscriminate sexual escapades with dire consequences. In our world here, music is often used inappropriately as noise resulting in noise pollution. It can cause hypertension, high stress levels, hearing loss, sleep disturbances and heart disease. Nigerians need to learn how to use music intelligently to enhance physical and psychological health rather than make it an agent that endangers our personal and collective health.

Oyewole is a mental health advocate and a Consultant Psychiatrist at the Ladoke Akintola University Teaching Hospital, Ogbomosho, Oyo State.

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