I’ve been thinking more about music and mental health lately since the next issue of This Zine is going to be a music-themed issue. I’ve got an interview lined up with UK ska/punk band Call Me Malcolm, and I have one other singer/songwriter I’m planning to ask to be in the issue, Amy Gerhartz. I’ve been looking up quotes about music and mental health and have found some good ones so far. I’d heard this one before but love it… “One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.” – Bob Marley. Another good one I found is… “I think any time I’ve ever got down or ever felt low the one thing that picks me up from that is writing a song about it. At least you’ve got a positive experience out of a bad experience.” – Singer Ed Sheeran. And there are so many more.
I’ve been listening to a UK Punk/Ska band suggested by a friend called Call Me Malcolm. Many of their lyrics are about mental health. Here are the lyrics from Inside Out, a track from their album I Was Broken When You Got Here. And here’s a recent video from the song What You Burn.
I’m loving this band so far and plan to feature them in some way in a music issue of TZHI (more on that later). Their lyrics and music are an audio version of what TZHI is all about, normalizing the mental health conversation and helping others know they are not alone. I’m stoked!
After yesterday’s post questioning whether or not music could trigger mania, I did some Googling and so far haven’t found much written about a causal connection between music and mania. What I did find of interest in this scientific article is that among classical musicians there is a higher than average rate of mood disorders with bipolar being one of the most prevalent. Another point of interest and a common thread in articles I found is that people experiencing mania sometimes prefer to listen to loud music. I can relate to that generalization. I wonder also if the loud music tends to feed the mania, which is what at least my own mania drives me to do. This would definitely be something to explore in a music issue of TZHI.
I’ve been listening to a lot of ska music lately. I don’t know if there’s a direct correlation, but my mood has been lighter and happier. If you’re not familiar with ska, it’s a style of music that originated in the late 1950’s / early 1960’s in Jamaica. Ska music emphasizes the upbeat or the upstroke of the rhythm, and typically includes a horn section complete with trumpet, trombone, and often saxophone. It’s sometimes described as being “happy music” even though the lyrics can be dark, or even depressing when read without the music, for example, The Science of Selling Yourself Short by Less Than Jake sounds bright and happy but is all about a tragic life. Most recently I’ve been listening to the mostly instrumental ska music of The Skatalites. It’s very “happy music” that for me is difficult to listen to without wanting to dance. Even my teenage daughter who is rarely moved by much of anything dances a little when I’m playing ska.
After thinking about it, I’m wondering if I’m drawn to ska music presently because it resonates with my good mood, or if it is the reason for my good mood. It’s the old question of which came first, the chicken or the egg? Since I didn’t know the answer I decided to Google “music and mood”. This is one of the first articles I found. The article suggests that even “sad” music can bring pleasure and comfort to the listener, however, the article also suggests that for some people sad music can produce negative feelings of “profound grief”. So I guess the jury is still out on the effects of sad music.
The article cites a 2013 study in the Journal of Positive Psychology which found that people who listened to upbeat music could improve their moods and boost their happiness in just two weeks. This study might point to the conclusion that the mood follows the music, but this leaves the question of why people experiencing a deep personal loss tend to prefer sad music. That would lead one to the idea that people choose to listen to the music that resonates with their present mood.
For me, I’m beginning to think that it’s a little of both. Perhaps we’re drawn to the music that resonates with our mood, and then it amplifies whatever we’re currently feeling. Sort of a feedback loop, if you will.
I wonder if there have been studies of the effects of music specifically on people with bipolar? If my assumption is correct, there might be a degree to which listening to upbeat music could lift one’s depressed mood, but that at some point it would lift one’s mood too much, producing mania. An interesting question, one worth exploring more.
I’ve been listening to a lot of NF‘s music lately. While I’m not a big fan of most rap music made after about 1995 (KRS-One’s 1995 S/T album was the last album I still enjoy on a regular basis), I’m loving listening to NF. His music deals with mental health issues including OCD and trauma. Though I don’t relate to those two issues specifically, I can identify with his struggles with anxiety, self-criticism, faith, therapy, searching for meaning, and a lot of the other themes in his music. His music video for The Search opens with NF wearing black, struggling to pull a cart with black balloons tied to it, over rough terrain. There’s so much symbolism packed into the first few seconds and the rest of the video is also full of meaning. My favorite line from the song The Search is, “Just think about it for a second, if you look at your face, every day when you get up and think you’ll never be great, you’ll never be great. Not because you’re not but the hate will always find a way to cut you up and murder your faith.”
Self-doubt is something I’ve always struggled with and when I hear those lyrics I know I’m not alone. I’m thinking I need to do a music and mental health issue of the TZHI, and somehow, I have to get ahold of NF and hear from him on the subject. “Better grab your balloons and invite your friends!” – NF
This morning I’ve been reading Rock Steady: Brilliant Advice from My Bipolar Life by Ellen Forney to review it for This Zine #3. While I’m not going to post my review here (you’ll have to wait for the zine), I will say I’m enjoying it very much! I loved Ellen’s previous book Marbles (a New York Times bestseller), and this follow-up book is every bit as good. I also recorded a question for a new song about everyone’s questions they are having right now because of the racist events happening in the world today. My question is: Why must we face so much hate… until we see the Pearly Gates? Whenever the song is released I’ll post a link to it on this blog. Another thing I did this morning was watching a comedy routine on YouTube about bipolar disorder by Jennifer Aboki (@jenaboki). You might not get some of the jokes unless you either have bipolar disorder or know someone well who does. The whole thing resonated with me, made me laugh, and made me think about including humor in This Zine. Though mental illness can be a heavy topic, there’s clearly room for some levity and for laughing at ourselves.