Transcending Barriers: How Music is Helping Break the Stigma Around Mental Health
Written By: Dr. Anjali Mediboina, House Surgeon, ASRAM
“Where words fail, music speaks.”
-Hans Christian Andersen
Be it language, culture or religion, music has always transcended barriers. From invoking emotions, to sparking revolutions, music is well-known for its influence on humans’ behaviour, and is the subject of investigations across a wide variety of fields, from anthropology to neurology.
In the field of medicine, music therapy is the clinical use of music to reduce stress improve mood and memory. It includes listening, singing, playing or composing music and is used in treating people with PTSD, mental health disorders, substance abuse disorder. Music therapy has also been proved beneficial in stimulating the mind and improving memory, thus aiding people with Alzheimer’s disease.
Music has proved to be healing not only for the listeners, but also for the musicians themselves. Notable artists such as BTS, Epik High, Demi Lovato and Eminem have spoken about their struggles with mental health and have written about them in their songs as well.
“Our greatest influence and where we draw our strength and our comfort and our joy is the fans. So we always have that in mind when we make our music, and I think our fans are also able to get that same strength or joy.”
-Suga of BTS in an interview with Entertainment Weekly
Here are some artists who have written about mental health in their songs:
A K-pop group consisting of 7 members, BTS have been open about their struggles in life since the start. Advocates for mental health, BTS have even spoken in the UN General Assembly in 2018 for their Love Myself campaign in collaboration with UNICEF.
Songs you must listen to: I’m Fine, Spring Day, Mikrokosmos, Black Swan
- Epik High
Epik High is a 3 member Korean alternative hip-hop group who have been making music since 2001. Well known for their hard-hitting raps and unique music style, Epik High have never shied away from the tough topics, writing about mental health, stalker fans (or sasaengs, in Korean), religion and corruption.
Songs you must listen to: In Seoul, Fan, Rosario, Fly
- Billie Eilish
Billie Eilish needs no introduction. Known for her alternative sound and brutally honest lyrics, Billie has captured the dark side of mental illness in more than one song.
Songs you must listen to: lovely, ilomilo, all the good girls go to hell, bellyache
- Olivia O’Brien
An American singer-songwriter, Olivia O’Brien is a personal favourite of mine. Not only are her vocals amazing, she also writes really raw and honest lyrics that have the power to make anyone emotional.
Songs you must listen to: Tequilawine, I Don’t Exist, hate u love u, No More Friends
American rapper Logic wrote the song 1-800-273-8255 featuring Alessia Cara and Khalid, about suicide prevention. The song, aside from being a hit, also had a real social impact: statistics from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (America) showed a 27% increase in call volume. Logic has also rapped about his struggles with race and identity.
Songs you must listen to: Isis, 1-800, A Letter To My Younger Self, Gang Related
- Stray Kids
An 8 member K-pop group, Stray Kids have grabbed fans’ attention for being the first self-producing group; they produce their own music and even choreograph their songs. Known for their upbeat tempos, Stray Kids have also been real about bringing awareness to mental health issues, and the struggles that idols face.
Songs you must listen to: M.I.A., 19, Side Effects, Easy, Lonely St.
Research has shown that expressive writing, a form of writing where one writes about their stressful experiences for at least 15 minutes for three consecutive days, has been associated with improved emotional and physical health. So, seeing all these artists writing about and going through catharsis, while helping fans realise that they are not alone in their struggles gives one hope that soon, the stigma around mental health will surely be broken.
1. Music Therapy: What Is It, Types & Treatment [Internet]. Cleveland Clinic. [cited 1 June 2022]. Available from: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/treatments/8817-music-therapy#:~:text=Music%20therapy%20is%20the%20clinical,playing%20instruments%2C%20or%20composing%20music.
2. Greenblatt L. BTS’ RM and Suga talk mental health, depression, and connecting with fans [Internet]. EW.com. 2019 [cited 1 June 2022]. Available from: https://ew.com/music/2019/03/29/bts-rm-suga-mental-health/
3. Crawley R, Ayers S, Button S, Thornton A, Field AP, Lee S, Eagle A, Bradley R, Moore D, Gyte G, Smith H. Feasibility and acceptability of expressive writing with postpartum women: a randomised controlled trial. BMC pregnancy and childbirth. 2018 Dec;18(1):1-2.