Wednesday, January 28, 2015


Depression has been plaguing people probably from the point of ejection from the mythical garden. (Eve probably felt guilty and depressed for starting the whole thing!) In the last couple of centuries, we’ve developed the hope that we can do something about it. We’ve studied it, tried to explain it, medicated it, but we can’t really fix it.

What is it, then? Before there were so many anti-depressant medications available, the psychoanalysts worked with talk therapy. There was considerable evidence that what was involved had something to do with what we do with our aggression. We developed the idea “depression is anger turned inward.” So it would make sense to think that rerouting those feelings would make a difference -- and it often does. When a person stops beating up on himself, and realizes that he’s really enraged at Mom, but is too afraid of her to say so, he does feel better. 

With the advent of medication, there are many depressions that actually get resolved, although I personally wonder if they might not recur down the line. There are also, sadly, those that get a little better -- perhaps suicide goes from the top of the option list to near the bottom -- but too often the suffering remains.

Those people who don’t get a “cure” are left with the need to find ways to live better, feel happier. They can purposely make choices that lead to pleasant thoughts rather than unpleasant ones (maybe watch a comedy instead of a tragedy). Staying active is important, as is having a solid group of friends. It is even possible to learn to make snap choices about what thoughts to think. And everyone swears by exercise. 

So where would music come in? 

There’s a famous study that demonstrated that simply changing one’s facial muscles from a frown to a smile lightened mood. 

Breathing well, so that the brain is well charged with oxygen, increases both a sense of safety and a sense of energy.

Acting “as-if” really works. A funny example: My dog grew up with cats, and got a little identify-befuddled. He often tried to purr when he was feeling good. But he couldn’t make that exact sound, so he would rumble in his throat. Now, what does a throat-rumble mean to a dog? It means he’s growling. The next thing we knew, he’d be upset and angry. He made the noise, and the response followed.

So if we make a noise, why wouldn’t that work the same? There are “laughing groups”  in which people purposely laugh -- for an hour. They actually do laughing exercises. And they are much happier at the end of the hour -- so they keep coming back.

Singing combines (1) the open mouth of a big smile, (2) the depth of breath needed to charge the brain with oxygen, (3) the production of sounds that we associate with joy. Add to that the expression of emotion and the benefits of exercise (anyone who thinks singing isn’t exercise hasn’t done very much of it!). How can one be depressed with all that going on?

Short of a cure, I can’t think of a better treatment for depression.

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