Yesterday, NPR published an article on the relationship between depression and teens who listen to music regularly. While the study in the piece doesn’t say listening to a lot of music causes depression, it still highlights ample music consumption as a symptom. But why look to the music-listening habit in the first place?
“Depression is harder to discover in young people compared to older people,” [researcher Primack] explains. “Sometimes the signs and symptoms in adolescence are different. Maybe there’s more irritability as opposed to sadness.” Music may be a clue that a child needs help.
Or, maybe irritability and sadness are regular symptoms of being a teenager, and the depression comes from being born into a culture where neurotic parents are constantly trying to “fix” and medicate their children.
One commenter (Kenzie F.) made this salient point about hidden variables:
Did you even think of discussing potential confounders for this study? How about that these kids that were willing to participate for the study subjected themselves to 8 weekends of phone interviews with trainer surveyors. What kinds of kids would do that? Kids that have no friends or plans for their weekend? Kids whose parents made them participate?
The damning factor, though, is that the study found that teenagers who read regularly were less depressed than those who listen to music all the time. Now that’s a chin-rubbing statistic. But what happens if you’re hardcore into Tolkienn AND Tool? God forbid teenagers might be complex human beings with diverse interests. Nor did the study take into account what kind of music these kids were listening to, or what kind of literature they were reading. Sexy vampire fan-fiction might have a different effect on a person than say, Chuck Palahniuk or Slaughterhouse Five.
But then there’s the argument that depression is just a natural part of creative engagement. Depression is ten times more common in artists, musicians and writers than the average population. And according to a 2007 article in Psychology Today, depression is common in this population just because it’s a byproduct of reflective thinking.
But what’s worrisome about the teen study, and the implications that people draw from it, is that “science” can be used to stifle a natural part of a person’s growth and self-exploration. Listening to “emo” music doesn’t mean you’re depressed, and if you are, well, maybe that’s okay too. Maybe what’s more unhealthy is to never self-reflect, or never experience despair as a result of thinking critically.
One last thing that the article did not address: Hey guys, music therapy treats depression!