Music and Mental Illness Recovery

brain-mind-music This is a post that I originally wrote and published on February 20th, 2010.

Music has the power to influence people’s emotions; it can make them happy, sad, or angry. Music can also aid in the recovery of mental illnesses.

The Geriatric Mental Health Department of the Chhatarati Shahuju Maharaj Medical University in India is starting a music therapy clinic to treat elderly patients with mental disorders (like dementia). Nearly 5% of elderly people older than 60 years of age suffer from dementia.

S.C. Tiwari, the head of the Geriatric Mental Health Department, said that music is found to have a positive impact on patients suffering from mental tension. Slow and melodious music soothes tension; rock, pop, and fast music should be avoided because of the negative emotions it can draw out, and it also raises blood pressure. So soft, melodious, and soothing music is the way to go if you want to relieve your mental tension.

Not only can music therapy help people with mental illnesses, but playing an instrument and being a part of an ensemble can help, too.

Tunefoolery Concert Ensembles is a group of 50 musicians from Cambridge, Massachusetts, who are all living with a mental illness. The group helps musicians move away from the mental patient role into a new identity as a professional musician and performer.

“Tunefoolery is a great example of how non-traditional mental health treatment truly can change people’s lives,” said one of the band members. “Music is powerful medicine! I have a tremendous feeling of belonging with Tunefoolery. I have found great friends here. It’s a job and a creative outlet at the same time.”

The members perform as solo acts or small ensembles; they play 75 to 90 gigs every year at mental health treatment programs, hospitals, nursing homes, and other locations. You can visit their website at

When asked, “What role does music play in your recovery process?” this is what people had to say:

“Music is my life. When depressed, I have certain artists that help me get through. Tori Amos has saved my life many times.” –Tiffany Arnold

“Instead of using music to calm me down, I tend to find music to suit my mood…it’s something I’m working on.” –DeAnna Banfield Ross

“Music comforts me as long as I remember that during a crisis. My memory is so very bad.” –Rachel Morris

“My daughter always listens to ICP really loud to calm herself down when she is mad (and most of the time it works!!)” –Sara Paschal

“Music has a tremendous role in my recovery. I would not be as far as I am in life as well as my recovery without it. When I’m feeling stressed, I put on some good dancing music and dance away. If I need to just relax, I put on some R&B or Jazz.” –Rachel Johnson

“Music is the only thing that got me through my youth. That’s why music mends.”– @musicmends

“It says what I can’t verbalize.” –Amy Ruiz

“I use relaxation CDs to relax me and it helps me to sleep too; soft in the background when you put light out. It’s CDs with no words just music, and the others are of waterfalls, birds in the background ,etc. And panpipe music also lets me relax.” –Melanie S. Grobler

“Before I was even aware that my mental health was not at its best I would find myself listening to things like Carmina Burahna (sp?) by Carl Orff and Guns and Roses when I was very stressed or angry. I would dance (untrained) by letting my body go and seeing what happened when at a dancer friend’s house and always feel vulnerable after. Once I was aware of depression I found that the sound of the TV in the background, people talking on radio 4 kept me calm when I was home alone. Carl Orff and Guns and Roses are still things I listen to when I have great pain, upset or stress, I listen very loudly for about 10 mins and have about 1 min of maximum volume where I scream, shout, sing along before turning it down so the neighbors don’t complain. I used to sing in am dram and G&S operatics at school and uni and I miss it. I would like to find somewhere to sing as singing used to give me feelings of passion and energy and high spirits and emotions that in other ways I would be afraid to express.” –Fiona Art

“Music plays a huge role in my depression, it helps, randomly, to listen to sad songs when I’m sad because I can identify with them and have a cry. It helps me to let it all out. I also find heavy rock to be empowering, calming and just listening to it can make me feel as though I have succeeded in venting a lot of anger.” –Vicky Protheroe Jones

“Music is vital to me in every way…it helps me in that, when I hear someone else articulating what I feel, I feel that maybe I am not alone, maybe someone else does understand… it feels good to have music be able to speak for me,when I am too weak to speak for myself.” –Ms MCR Makaveli

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