Many people like music and I often listen to my favorite genres including classic and rock on CDs at home and on my smartphone while on the go.
Many patients attending my psychiatric clinic due to depression and other symptoms love music. Numerous people replied in a medical questionnaire that I hand out before the first examination that they go to concerts, sing karaoke or play musical instruments as a hobby or as a way to relax.
To these people I ask, "I see you like music. How's it been lately?"
I usually get two kinds of replies. Some say, "Music cheers me up more than ever because I'm feeling depressed," while others say, "I currently don't have enough energy to sing karaoke and I don't want to listen to anything."
In other words, when people lack energy they often fall into two types of categories -- those who find music comforting and soothing or disturbing and noisy.
This seems to have nothing to do with how much the person loved music in the first place. Moreover, some people even come to like melodies very different from what they usually enjoy. One male patient stated, "I generally only listen to jazz, but somehow I was moved by Japanese enka music after I became depressed."
In this manner, the connection between music and the mind isn't straightforward. That's why music therapy is difficult. When I recommend Mozart's music, which is known to suit anyone's taste, some patients with depression say, "It feels kind of awkward and unsettling." There is no almighty tune that is suitable for healing everyone.
But having said that, music does carry an impressive power to encourage or comfort listeners. Some say melodies even rejuvenate one's energy to live, especially when a person with dementia hears music they liked when they were younger. Furthermore, playing simple musical instruments and singing in a chorus could be the best rehabilitation option for people who isolate themselves in their house.
If someone can compose music that makes everyone feel better, I think they could win a Nobel Prize. When I said this to a nurse I work with, they said, "Doctor, if you discover something suitable, you should release a CD before you make an announcement." The nurse laughed and added, "You could become a millionaire."
On second thought, music is so attractive because everyone likes different genres and people want music to accompany different occasions. That said, I don't think I'll have the chance to become a millionaire.
(By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)