The poor mental health of asylum seekers in detention is no longer a guilt-trip that Australians hold at bay. We’re getting a taste of it, especially the anxiety. Maybe some anger, simmering or otherwise.
You may be seeing this in family members who are struggling to adapt to a life where walking in the open air is a restricted, disciplined adventure, not dissimilar from walking the yard in jail.
Now and then you might hear somebody singing in the neighbourhood. Perhaps a number of people. And there it is: Singing makes you feel better.
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Italy is on Coronavirus lockdown, but people still manage to come together by singing traditional songs from their balconies to lift their spirits – like in this viral Twitter clip from Gabriele Restivo. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Are you stuck inside? What are you doing to stay busy? ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ #dweuromaxx #euromaxx #deutschewelle #deutschewelletv #coronavirus #corona #italianquarantine #italianlockdown #faithinhumanityrestored #faithinhumanity #humansareawesome #peoplearegood #coronavirusitalianews #coronaoutbreak #italy #viralvideos
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Self-medicating with music
The virtual and fragmented sing-a-longs prompted Australian Catholic University Professor of Music Tim McKenry this week to issue a press release with the following observation:
“People are self-medicating with music because they can feel it making a difference. They are following a social pattern that goes back thousands of years to turn to music in times of stress.”
Professor McKenry said “many of the traditional forms of music such as hymns, slave songs, and military music” developed in response to social isolation.
The sound of music, and the experience of making music, he said, is a powerful resource to draw upon, for modulating our mood and behaviour, and attendant stress.
“Music helps us process and express emotions which is particularly important at a time when we are experiencing so much change and uncertainty,” he said.
“Throughout history humans have intentionally used music to influence mood and behaviour. We use songs to revel and rejoice, to worship and work, and to remember and reminisce. It is absolutely consistent that we use it now to deal with the contemporary challenges of the pandemic.”
What’s the science say?
There’s plenty of research that supports this idea.
In fact, Professor McKenry cited more than two dozen research papers that highlight positive relationships between music participation, health and well-being in terms of social, emotional, cognitive and physical health, musicianship, spiritual, identity, self-improvement and life satisfaction benefits.
A study from 2013 found members of a choir become physically in-sync, not just emotionally, with a positive effect on total wellbeing.
The study found that “the structures of songs, respiration and heart rates were all connected, with unison singing of known, regular song structures creating a synchronisation of heart rate variability so that they decelerate and accelerate at the same time.
“Accordingly, choir singing was found to relax the vagus nerve, resulting in feelings of well-being and connectedness. This research gives further support for the role of therapeutic choirs to promote social capital and health equity in community settings.”
Professor McKenry also notes that music can promote endurance: “Chain gang songs or military marches tap into the power of rhythmic entrainment to keep people going long past the point of exhaustion.”
On the other hand, one of Professor McKenry’s sustaining favourites is this:
It even works in Sing Sing
Prison research shows that music can positively and negatively determine the mood of a population in confinement. A 2013 Israeli study found relaxing music reduced anger and stress in a prison population, for inmates and guards.
A 2018 study found music was central to a prison’s “emotional geography”.
In other words, in the quarters of a prison where more aggressive music is played, you’re more likely to get a punch in the face; whereas the inmates partial to Cat Stevens’s Morning Has Broken are likely to hug you to death.
If academia leaves you cold. Think of the few moments in The Shawkshank Redemption when the prisoners are freed from their spiritual austerity, and down-heartedness, by the magic of two women singing a duet from Mozart.
Music changes perceptions, not just mood
In 2011, Dutch psychologists found music is not only able to affect your mood, but can even change the way we perceive the world, to the point of seeing things that aren’t actually there.
The researchers from the University of Groningen found that, under the influence of a happy or sad tune, people sometimes see happy or sad faces. How is this possible?
In a statement from the university, lead author Dr Jacob Jolij writes: “Seeing things that are not there is the result of top-down processes in the brain. Conscious perception is largely based on these top-down processes: your brain continuously compares the information that comes in through your eyes with what it expects on the basis of what you know about the world.
“The final result of this comparison process is what we eventually experience as reality. Our research results suggest that the brain builds up expectations not just on the basis of experience but on your mood as well.”
A 2016 study from Bournemouth University found music therapy reduces depression in children and adolescents with behavioural and emotional problems.
According to a statement from the university, the researchers found children and young people, aged eight to 16 years old, who received music therapy had significantly improved self-esteem and significantly reduced depression compared with those who received treatment without music therapy.
Music is tied to a range of emotions
In his statement, Professor McKenry said the greatest benefits from music were gained by participation, but you don’t have to be an expert musician: just connecting with the rhythm and melody helps.
“When people sing, dance or play together that creates a sense of well-being and connectedness,” he said.
“At this time of social isolation, we can magnify the connections we are able to have – whether by having family music time or by connecting with neighbours, as Italians have demonstrated so beautifully by singing from their balconies.
“But we can also simulate that sense of connection to some degree and gain some of the benefits by singing, dancing or clapping along with recorded music or with friends over video-conferencing technology. It might feel strange at first but the research shows it works.”
Here are some TND staff happy favourites
From Senior Editor Zona Black:
From reporter Cait Kelly, who describes the tune as “chill as… but upbeat.”
Home page editor Basil Hegazi goes upbeat:
Our Sports editor Andrew “Spud” Tate pleads:
Social media reporter Cathryn Boyes has one for a bean bag:
Deputy Money Editor Killian Plastow loves:
Reporter and wombat advocate Sam Dick is crying out for freedom:
And The New Daily Science Editor’s personal pick-me-up is out of Africa: