‘Music lifted me through my darkest days’
Peadar O’Loughlin at work in the Courthouse Gallery, Ennistymon, where he has a workshop. Photograph: Eamon Ward
Music is a powerful form of expression: whether playing or listening to it, the tone, volume, instrument and genre can have a profound effect on how we feel.
We have all felt melancholy when hearing a certain piece of music, or uplifted and revived simply by hearing the sounds of an upbeat tune, so it makes sense that music is used as a form of treatment or therapy for people suffering with mental health issues.
Dr Barbara Dooley, the director of research at Headstrong, a charity that supports young people with mental health issues, says research has proven a link between music and positive mental health.
“A study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry demonstrated that individuals who received music therapy in addition to their standard care had significantly reduced levels of depression and anxiety compared to those who received only standard care,” she says.
“Listening to music can have a relaxing effect on our minds and bodies by slowing the pulse and heart rate, lowering blood pressure and decreasing levels of cortisol, our stress hormone.”
In the My World Survey by Dooley and Fitzgerald in 2012, 14,500 people in Ireland between the ages of 12 and 25 said listening to or playing music was one of their top three preferred strategies for coping when times are tough, “so this points to the value of music in dealing with life’s ups and downs”, says Dooley.
All-consuming schizophreniaRuth has suffered with schizophrenia since 1985. A keen musician, she plays the flute, recorder and guitar. She feels that both playing and listening to music were key to helping her to recover from the times when her illness seemed all-consuming.
“I had an office job in London in the 1980s and during that time I had a nervous breakdown,” she says. “I came back to Ireland and was admitted to hospital for six weeks and used to listen to my Walkman constantly to escape what was going on around me.
“I was allowed to bring my flute in so I practised every day in a spare room and played to some of the other patients.
“I also wrote some songs while I was in there and would sit out in the corridor with the others, to whom I had taught the words, and sing.
“I remember one of the songs was called Keep Taking the Tablets, which was a bit of light relief from it all.”