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The Relationship Between Mental Health and Music

Ask yourself, what is a beat? If you drew a blank at this question at first then you wouldn't be the only one. Let me take a guess and say that after five seconds you finally answered — it's something that you can feel.

Now picture this (Really do it!). You are sitting on a park bench listening to a song on your headphones. You increase the volume until the world becomes oblivious to you, you allow only the sound of music to interact with your senses and nothing else. The attention you give to that song is effortlessly undivided. The song is over. Simultaneously the responsible part of your brain props up like a notification and tells you to do something productive, you then get up and you find yourself walking with a spring in your step on your way to complete your task, the same task that drove you away to the park bench in the first place.

Why Can We Use Music Therapy?

Even as newborns we danced to songs because of the way our brains have been wired. The degree of importance we give to a particular stimulus is known as its ‘saliency’ and this is determined by the salient network of our brain. Think of this as a giant web that connects the sensory parts of our brain. Furthermore, when a baby hears a melodious sound, they concentrate on it and this is where the salience network comes into play — the connectivity between the different parts of its brain magnifies resulting in brain development. The salient network along with intertwined brain networks helps the brain perform various complex functions spanning from social behavior to the amalgamation of sensory, emotional, and cognitive information.

Mental Disorders - When Yin and Yang Don’t Sync

Our brain is divided into two hemispheres, let's call the left one yin and right one yang. Both yin and yang understand languages but slightly differently, Yin understands speech whereas yang understands sound. They both do this with the help of ‘arcuate fasciculus’, these are just a bunch of axons (long-end of a nerve) that helps connect the Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas, both of which are involved in comprehending and producing language.

For example, autism is a disease that affects about 1% of the population globally and it is usually seen from a young age. In simple words, it is a disorder that reduces the ability of an individual to be able to communicate and interact with people due to impaired cognitive functions. Now, if you were to compare the brains of two children- one healthy and the other one diagnosed with autism, it can be seen that the yang’s arcuate fasciculus of the child with autism will be thicker than yin’s. Therapists saw this and thought, “Wait, up till now we have tried to treat this disorder in a way that allows children with autism to fit into our world through speech, but what if we help them enter our world via a passage that they understand better?” This is where music therapy came into picture and now therapists communicate with yang in order to bring yin into our world.

Not just autism, cardiac conditions, Alzheimer's disease, and even schizophrenia can be treated using cognitive behavioral music therapy or sound therapy. Research even suggests that it is possible to find out about potential dyslexia in young children via their ability to distinguish between similar sounds. And the cherry on top is that this method is accessible to all age groups and gender, no bias at all!

‘What will we do with a drunken sailor?’

This sea shanty was sung by slaves when they had to make a sail. Hours and hours of intensive labor together was made possible to get through by singing this song. Marching bands were used to gather the soldiers and help them prepare for war, the alternate sounds of the drums motivated them. Why do you think that is? From my own experience I can say that music helps us put our unbridled thoughts on the back burner. I’ve always found it incredibly ironic how whenever I listen to or sing a song loudly is the only time when I actually feel tranquil, because only then does the little, extremely self-critical voice in my head silences for a while; maybe the same applies to any soldier or sailor back then too, maybe the songs resonated with everybody and brought everybody to the same wavelength and ultimately gave them strength.

The music you listen to doesn’t define you or your character (I am sure that Buzzfeed would suggest otherwise), but it does help you by making you smile or cry out the emotions you have bottled together, or just dance your heart out at any instant.

You can jump from Elvis Presley to Pink Floyd in a span of three minutes then roll back to folk music. No trends, no patterns, just beats alchemized to your liking. A universal language with no words but one that all, abled and disabled understand.

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