Peace, joy, healing. You can see it, plain and powerful, in the faces of those who make music on the path to recovery. You can hear it as they speak of music’s role in their journeys out of psychiatric darkness and into the light of reclaimed lives.
Just watch and listen to those who harmonize through Sing Your Heart Out, an English program that’s open to anyone with any story — some with psychiatric diagnoses, some without, no questions asked either way. Or hear the words of James O’Flynn and his band, the Claddagh Rogues — among the many who gather for music and fellowship at 49 North Street, a well-being initiative in Skibbereen, Ireland.
Some say that music literally saved their lives, pulling them from the brink of suicide. Others say its mental-health benefits have played a significant role in their quest for wellness, providing relief from depression, anxiety, addiction, and freedom from hospitalization, incarceration, homelessness. “It kept me together,” said O’Flynn of the songs he created to carry him through his time in institutions. “It was the only sanity I could find.”
This all begs the question: Why? What is it about music that makes it such a potent and transformative force for healing? As a species, we like it — that’s obvious enough. But what does the science say about it? What can it tell us about music’s impact on our cognition and on our mood, on our capacity for empathy, and our sense of connection with others? How does it change the brain, an organ exquisitely designed to respond to its environment? In the process, how does it change us? In study after study after study, the links between music and wellness have been repeatedly confirmed, as scientists keep digging into its social, emotional, mental, and neurological effects.
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