Musical therapy's healing qualities

For Christy Damron, a former Santa Monica College student, it is not easy for her to see her father, a grown man, cry.

"One moment he'll be hanging out on the couch, very normal," Damron said. "The next he'll be crying and going ballistic. Bipolar can be terrifying."

Many people associate mental disorders with homeless people, drug addicts, or people with rough backgrounds. But mental disorders are a lot closer to home than most people think.

One in five American adults 18 or older has suffered from a mental illness in the past year, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Those figures amount to the equivalent of six people in a class of 30, 6,000 students at SMC and 45.6 million people across the United States.

SMC has seen severe cases of mental illness play out on campus with suicides, shootings, shooting scares, and bomb threats. Many students have asked why these people did not receive help because if they had, then maybe such incidents would not have occurred.

"Fear is a very real thing," said Dave Christy, an SMC psychology student. "People suffering from a disorder feel reluctant to get help otherwise it becomes more real to them. They don't want something to be wrong with them."

James Childers, an SMC student, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He has not allowed himself to become drowned by his disorder, but has instead become proactive with a goal to inspire others who are going through similar struggles.

Childers found community and began producing documentaries to show how music festivals help those with bipolar disorder. His documentary, Project Art, is about a man on a journey to find healing for his mental health disorder through workshops at transformational music festivals.

"Music festivals create a sense of community," Christy said. "People are gathered together with a common interest — a love for the same kind of music. The community aspect of festivals reinforces certain values, and experiences are reminisced when people find a connection with the songs."

Damron said her father has found comfort in music, which acts as a soothing tool when he feels like he is about to enter a manic phase.

"He will listen to music that is associated with a good memory to put him in a comfortable state of mind," she said.

Christy said that he feels music can have both a positive and negative effect. Most people use music to relax and find a sense of calmness. But music can be used to pump a person up for the gym, become energized and express anger.

"When people are really depressed, they will play music that makes them sadder and can impede that feeling," he said. "If the music is used beneficially, it can help a person process and work through the experience."

Elena Mannes wrote in an excerpt titled "The Power of Music" that Daniel Bernard Roumain, a young cross-genre violinist, thought one reason music is so powerful is due to sounds actually penetrating our bodies.

"You know when someone says that a piece of music 'touched me' or 'moved me,' it's very literal," Roumain said in the excerpt. "The sound of my voice enters your ear canal and it's moving your eardrum. That's a very intimate act. I am very literally touching you, and when you speak to me, you are literally touching me. And then we extend that principle to the sound of a violin."

Christy, however, did not entirely agree with Roumain's statement.

"Music is more metaphysical than physical," he said. "It carries such powerful emotions that allow us to trick ourselves into an emotion or take us back to a memory, which then lets the real emotion carry over."

He explained that sound penetrates our brain, causing certain neurons to fire and create a path. The more we listen to things we like, the stronger those neurons fire and the more distinct that path becomes.

Childers said music is more effective for him than art or exercise.

While many agree that music plays a major role in people's emotions, and serves as a favorable outlet for many, it is not the most effective outlet, Christy said.

"Developing relationships and finding community is more powerful than music," he said.

People will often listen to music because it takes away the feeling of being alone. The songs people connect to can show that other people are going through something similar and provide a sense of security. Essentially we are creating relationships with the music we listen to, Christy said.

Whether people are listening to music to feel a connection with the lyrics in a song, or for the soothing instrumental aspects, it is evident that music does play a large role in people's emotions and can help some overcome certain struggles with their mental disorders.

"A diagnosis is not a life or death sentence," Christy said. "You are not alone."

Michelle KreelComment