Depression, that persistent dark cloud following a struggling soul around. Most of us know of someone who has had this disorder or you might have even experienced it yourself. If so, don’t be surprised. Depression is more common than you may think. According to the American Psychiatric Association, depression affects an estimated 1 in 15 adults in any given year, resulting in an alarming 1 in 6 people who will experience this illness at some time in their life. This makes depression one of the most common mental disorders in the United States. The World Health Organization even states that with more than 300 million people of all ages suffering from this disorder, depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide and a major contributor to the overall global burden of disease.
So what is depression? Depending on the number and severity of symptoms, a depressive episode can be categorized as mild, moderate, or severe. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), a major depressive disorder is defined as a period of at least two weeks where a person experiences a depressed mood, loss of interest or pleasure in daily activities, and presents a majority of specified symptoms, such as problems with sleep, eating, energy, concentration, or self-worth. Though there’s no consensus as to the cause for this disorder, it probably results from a complex interaction of social, psychological and biological factors. Depression is an emotional and mental problem but may also affect physical health, and even mild depression may decrease a person’s ability to function at work and at home.
Although there are psychological and pharmacological treatments for depression, the statistics mentioned previously suggest a need to investigate additional therapies to help treat this disorder. Music therapy, an intervention that involves regular meetings with a qualified music therapist, is a complementary therapy that is sometimes used for people with mental health problems. A recent Cochrane systematic review looked at the evidence for the effectiveness of music therapy for depression. The review included 9 studies with a total of 421 participants, all of which compared the effects of music therapy versus treatment as usual (TAU), or music therapy versus psychological therapy. Overall, the review found moderate‐quality evidence of large effects favoring music therapy and TAU over TAU alone for both clinician‐rated depressive symptoms and patient‐reported depressive symptoms at short term (up to three months). There was also low-quality evidence of better functioning and lower anxiety with music therapy. This means that adding music therapy to TAU is more effective at treating depression than TAU alone. However, there was not enough evidence for the reviewers to judge whether there was any difference in effectiveness between music therapy and psychological therapies, or between different types of music therapy.
If you’re thinking about suggesting some CDs or a concert to a loved one with depression, not so fast. Yes, we all love music, but Music Therapy is more than listening to music. It’s the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to address physical, emotional, cognitive and social needs in order to accomplish individualized goals with a therapeutic relationship. During these sessions, music therapists assess the strengths and needs of the client and provide the treatment accordingly which may include songwriting, improvisation, guided imagery, lyric analysis, singing, relaxation, and/or instrument playing. You may be wondering, how can just adding music to treatment help people feel less depressed? Well, there are some key factors for the success of this modality. First, there must be a Board Certified Music Therapist, as these are professionals trained to assess clients within the context of their individual circumstances and health needs. These are people who have developed both the musical and psychological knowledge to address the patient’s situation. Second, the active participation of the individual is crucial. Participants do not need musical skills, but the motivation to work actively within a music therapy process is extremely important.
In conclusion, findings of the Cochrane review indicate that music therapy added to standard care provides short‐term beneficial effects for people with depression and therefore may be an effective non-pharmacological strategy to enhance depression treatment. Other Cochrane reviews on music therapy for people with schizophrenia and schizophrenia-like disorders and music therapy for acquired brain injury suggest this modality may also be a useful addition to standard care for these conditions. Hence, there is a keen interest among the wellness community in exploring the potential of music therapy for a range of problems. Further research is needed to understand the mechanisms of music therapy and assess the effectiveness of different types of music therapy for depression and other conditions in a variety of healthcare settings.