The Intersection of Music, Art, and Mental Health
Feb 08, 2024
“Music can lift us out of depression or move us to tears—it’s a remedy, a tonic, orange juice for the ear. But for many of my neurological patients, music is even more—it can provide access, even when no medication can, to movement, to speech, to life. For them, music is not a luxury, but a necessity.”
–Oliver Sacks, neurology professor, best-selling author, and physician
Oliver Sacks’ quote beautifully captures the profound impact of music on our lives. It highlights the importance of music not just for entertainment or artistic expression, but also for its potential in medical and therapeutic applications.
For a really long time, people have used art in the form of music, painting, and dance to improve their mental health. You might not realize it, but you probably use art to help improve your mental well-being as well. How often have you doodled to relieve stress or listened to music when you’ve had a tough day? Turns out artistic expression and appreciation are not only enjoyable but also have the potential to benefit your mental health. Let’s find out how.
The Healing Power of Music
Ever listened to a song and thought, “this really speaks to my heart”? Music has this amazing ability to express what we’re feeling, even when we can’t find the words ourselves. Sometimes, listening to a song that matches our mood can help us understand and process our emotions better.
For example, let’s say you’re feeling down. Putting on a song with lyrics that reflect how you’re feeling might help you feel understood. Or if you’re feeling stressed, listening to slow, gentle tunes can slow your heart rate and make you feel more relaxed.
Research shows that when we’re stressed, listening to music we enjoy can lower our stress levels. So, the next time you catch yourself tapping your feet to an upbeat tune or shedding a tear to a soulful melody, remember that in that moment, you’re not just enjoying the music, you’re healing.
Art as Therapy
Sometimes, art isn’t just about making something pretty—it’s also a form of therapy. Art therapists use creative activities to help people deal with trauma or mental illness. It’s often said that traumatized people make the best artists. Take Vincent van Gogh, for instance—a Dutch painter, generally considered the greatest after Rembrandt van Rijn, and one of the greatest of the Post-Impressionists. Throughout his life, van Gogh struggled with mental health issues, including depression and episodes of psychosis. He channeled his inner turmoil into powerful, expressive art. In his famous work “Starry Night,” the swirling, turbulent sky and the stark contrast between light and dark are believed to represent van Gogh’s tumultuous state of mind.
For people, like van Gogh, who have been through a lot, painting or sculpting can be a safe way to explore their feelings. It’s like letting out emotions without having to talk about them directly. Studies have shown that art therapy can help folks manage symptoms of mental illness and feel more in tune with themselves. So, whether we’re doodling on a notepad or shaping clay into something beautiful, art has this incredible ability to improve your mental health.