Notes on Healing

Estimates reveal that as many as 30% of people in America suffer from depression. Mental illness and stress-related illnesses are at an all-time high. Most doctor visits have stress as an underlying theme. Unfortunately, the medications used to treat depression and stress are often ineffective.

In the year 400 BC, Hippocrates, the father of medicine, played music for the mentally ill. Robert Burton, in the Anatomy of Melancholy, stated that dance and music were critical in treating mental illness. So is there any scientific truth in using music to relieve depression and mental instability?

Apparently so: The mechanical sound waves of music travel through the air. The eardrums vibrate the bones in the middle ears. The brain then decodes these vibrations and turns the mechanical energy into electrical energy. The signal is sent to the cerebral cortex, which forwards the information to the parts of the brain governing emotion, anxiety, pleasure, and creativity. The electrical energy affects the hypothalamus, which controls heart rate and respiration. This electrical energy increases endorphin production as well.

Science is only demonstrating what caregivers have known for centuries—namely that music has a healing effect. This form of therapy has been used in depression, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease, amnesia, stroke, epilepsy, and bipolar disorder, to name just a few.

Of course, it’s also become somewhat of a cliché. We’re reminded of the maddeningly (pun very much intended) sterile music played in the insane asylum in the classic film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. And a quick poll taken here (with exactly one participant) indicates that another hearing of Pachelbel’s Canon or Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik (as undeniably masterful as they are) is more likely to causeinsanity than to cure it. However, there is much truth in that famous phrase coined by William Congreve in his play The Mourning Bride in 1697: “Music has charms to soothe a savage breast.” So … listen and be soothed.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.