Can music cause depression?

In this article we will discuss if music can cause depression, the effect of listening to music on teenagers and adult males and females, how music affects emotional regulation, if music can make us feel better and a few tips to use music to your benefit.

Can music cause depression?

Teenagers who listened to music frequently were eight times more likely to be depressed than those who did not listen to music frequently. The obvious problem was the amount of time some depressed youngsters spent listening to music. Spending too much time away from others can make you feel lonely.

Adolescents, music and depression.

Dr. Brian Primack, an assistant professor of medicine and paediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, led the research, which found that teens who listened to music more frequently — rather than watching TV or reading books — had a higher risk of developing major depressive disorder (MDD) than teens who listened to music less frequently. Teens had an 80% increased risk of depression with each degree of music use, according to the study.

Read the study here.

The study didn’t track overall listening time, but the authors assessed that adolescents in the highest-use group were likely listening to music for at least four or five hours per day based on previous evidence.

“At this time, it’s unclear if depressed people listen to more music to escape, or whether listening to a lot of music can cause depression, or both,” Primack said in a statement.

Reading books, on the other hand, was found to have the opposite effect: as youth spent more time reading, their risk of depression decreased by 50%. “This is important to emphasise since reading books is declining in the United States, while practically all other types of media are increasing,” Primack said.

The researchers conducted a two-month assessment of 106 participants aged seven to seventeen, 46 of whom had previously been diagnosed with depression. Researchers made numerous weekend phone calls to the kids during the study to discover what types of media they were utilising in real time, including television, music, video games, the Internet, journals, and books.

When researchers contacted, adolescents were most likely to be watching a movie or television (26 percent of the time). Teens said they listen to music 9 percent of the time, then use the Internet and play video games (6 percent each), and finally read written media (6 percent) (0.2 percent ). 

Unfortunately, “Because there were so few individuals who used magazines and/or newspapers, we aggregated these data with books into a single print media category,” the researchers stated.

After researchers accounted for characteristics such as age, sex, and ethnicity, only music indicated significant links with higher depression risk. However, this does not always imply that music causes depression; in fact, music may even help some depressed teenagers.

The authors of the study tell us that pain is a prominent subject in popular music, and it’s possible that depressed people seek out these messages to feel less alone in their sorrow. Individuals with MDD may, on the other hand, resort to pleasant music to “tune out” their negative moods or to elevate their moods.

 Other experts believe that excessive exposure to popular music’s occasionally grim themes may lead to the development of disorders like MDD.

Depression has also been linked to other forms of media, such as television and video games, according to previous study. A seven-year study led by Primack in 2009 found that adolescents who watched more TV as teenagers were more likely to become depressed as adults than teens who watched less. As a result, the researchers were surprised to find no such link in this study, although they urge that more research is needed to confirm any potential links.

Music and emotional regulation 

Emotion regulation is a crucial aspect of mental well-being. Emotional dysregulation is linked to psychiatric mood disorders including depression. Clinical music therapists understand the emotional power of music and can utilise it to help their clients achieve improved mood states and even relieve symptoms of psychiatric mood disorders such as depression.

Brain imaging illustrates how people’s emotional control is affected by brain reactions to various forms of music. The research shows that men who use music to manage negative emotions react badly to aggressive and unhappy music.

However, many people listen to music on their own to regulate their emotions, and little is known about how this type of music influences mental health.

 Researchers from the University of Jyväskylä’s Centre for Interdisciplinary Music Research, Finland’s Aalto University, and Denmark’s Aarhus University decided to look at a combination of behavioural and neuroimaging data to see if there was a link between mental health, music listening habits, and neural responses to music emotions.

 The research was published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience in August. Read the original research article here

“Some coping mechanisms for unpleasant emotions, such as rumination (constantly thinking about negative things), have been related to poor mental health. We wanted to see if there were any harmful consequences to listening to certain types of music “Emily Carlson, a music therapist and the study’s lead author, says

Participants were tested on a variety of mental health indicators, including depression, anxiety, and neuroticism, as well as how they used music to regulate their emotions. Anxiety and neuroticism were shown to be higher in participants who listened to sad or violent music to express negative sentiments, especially in males.

Dr. Suvi Saarikallio, co-author of the study and creator of the Music in Mood Regulation (MMR) test, explains, “This kind of listening results in the feeling of expression of bad feelings, but necessarily improving the negative mood.”

The researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) at the Aalto University AMI Center to record the participants’ cerebral activity as they listened to clips of joyful, sad, and fearful-sounding music to examine the brain’s unconscious emotion regulation processes.

According to professor Elvira Brattico, the study’s principal author, “the mPFC ( medial prefrontal cortex) is engaged during emotion modulation.” Males who listened to music to express negative emotions had decreased activity in the medial prefrontal cortex, according to the study (mPFC). However, there was higher activity in the mPFC in females who listened to music to distract themselves from negative emotions.

“These findings reveal a relationship between music listening styles and mPFC activity, suggesting that specific listening patterns may have long-term brain impacts.”

“We hope our research inspires music therapists to communicate with their clients about their music use outside of sessions,” Emily Carlson continues, “and encourages everyone to consider how the various ways they use music could improve or hurt their personal well-being.” 

Listening to sad music, comforting or depressing?

Some people appear to immerse themselves in the music and revel in the emotional experience. Others can use music for catharsis, to connect emotionally with others, to work through feelings of despair, or to think about ways to overcome obstacles. After all, sadness is a good emotion to feel in response to traumatic occurrences in our life. It encourages us to reflect on our circumstances and make changes to better our life.

According to the data, persons who are predisposed to clinical depression have a different reaction to music.

Rumination is the tendency to get mired in negative thought patterns and find it difficult to shake bad sentiments or ideas about events. It frequently occurs in conjunction with depression.

People with high rumination scores reported feeling more depressed after listening to sad music, rather than feeling better.

According to findings, listening to sad music while ruminating tends to reinforce negative cognitive patterns, eliciting sad memories and negative ideas. Read more about it here 

All of the participants in the study felt depressed after listening to the sad song they had chosen.

This feeling is usually nothing more than a minor blip in the day for a healthy individual, and it may even help them gain some significant psychological benefits along the road. Listening to music that makes you feel worse could be problematic for someone who is already significantly, possibly clinically depressed.

Can music make you feel better?

It is widely acknowledged that both listening to and making music can have a favourable impact on one’s mood and mental health. Including music in your daily routine can assist you:

  • improve your motivation and mood
  • to assist in relaxation
  • Increase the speed with which your brain processes information.

Music can help us cope with discomfort by diverting our focus away from it. Furthermore, when we appreciate music, our brains release those feel-good hormones.

 The pleasurable feelings that result, in combination with the distraction, can provide pain relief without the need of drugs. Music is used in many medical facilities to help patients’ spirits, soothe apprehension or worry, and promote mobility during physical treatment.

Tips to use music and benefit from it 

Better cognitive performance 

If you want to improve your mental performance, consider playing some music in the background the next time you’re working on a task. Consider listening to instrumental music instead of songs with complex lyrics, which may be more distracting.

Background music, or music played while the listener is primarily focused on another activity, has been shown to improve cognitive performance in older adults, according to research. According to one study, listening to more upbeat music improved processing speed, while listening to both upbeat and downbeat music improved mood and memory. 

Music can help reduce stress 

Music has long been thought to aid in the reduction or management of stress. Consider the current craze for meditative music, which is designed to calm the mind and induce relaxation. This is one trend, fortunately, that is backed up by research. Listening to music can help you relax and cope with stress.

Listen to music before sleeping 

Slow-tempo songs, according to studies, can help you fall asleep. If you want to relax, Lyz Cooper of the British Academy of Sound Therapy suggests looking for tunes with 60 beats per minute (BPM) or less. She goes on to say that songs should ideally remind you of a joyful time in your life.

Listen to music while working 

Working while listening to music improves accuracy and speed. However, the style of music you should listen to is determined by the type of work you do.

  • Listen to classical music if your job requires you to pay attention to figures or details.
  • If your job requires data entry, listen to pop music.
  • Listen to ambient music if your job requires you to solve equations.
  • Listen to dance music if you need to solve a problem at work.


In this article, we discussed if music can lead to depression, music and emotional regulation, if music can make you feel better, and benefits of music and tips to use music effectively. 


Can music make you feel depressed?

Sad music evokes both negative and pleasant emotions and judgments, which helps to explain why people listen to it. Listening to sad music, on the other hand, may be a maladaptive behaviour for some people, as it might exacerbate a depressed or sad mood.

How does music affect depression?

The researchers determined that music is a legitimate therapy for potentially reducing depression and anxiety, as well as improving mood, self-esteem, and quality of life, after examining 25 experiments. They also mentioned that no harmful side effects were identified in any of the studies, indicating that music is a low-risk therapeutic option.

What music genre causes depression?

Rock is the most popular genre among depressed listeners, followed by alternative, pop, and hip-hop/rap. Blues, on the other hand, is the least popular genre for folks looking to lift their spirits.

Can music affect your mental health?

Music therapy has been shown to be beneficial for a variety of mental health issues, including depression, trauma, and schizophrenia, according to research (to name a few). Music is a powerful tool for processing emotions, trauma, and loss, but it can also be used to regulate or reduce anxiety.