Can Sad Music Help with Depression?

You might be asking, why would someone who is struggling with depression want to listen to sad music? Most of us would suggest listening to something upbeat and cheerful! It’s not exactly the first thing we recommend when our friends are feeling down. But there’s actually some science behind this suggestion. And it’s related to that same feeling some people get when they go to a support group, or listen to others talk about their own depression. It’s a reminder that you’re not alone. There are others out there with similar or worse struggles. Sometimes knowing that we’re not the only one dealing with these overwhelming thoughts, fears, anxieties and struggles (sometimes minute-to-minute) can help us feel better. 

There’s an actual term for this concept of feeling better about ourselves knowing someone else out there has it worse. It’s called “downward social comparison”. Songs are used by artists to convey their emotions and talk about their struggles. Listen to Patsy Cline or The Smiths. Feel like you can relate to their emotions sometimes? Just hearing someone else sing about the same problems you have makes it easier to cope. Someone else out there shares your struggles. There are times many of us feel like no one could possibly understand what we’re going through. Music can be a useful tool for struggles like this.

Now here’s the science: Science Alert says that melancholy music is linked to the hormone prolactin which controls your grief. Think about when you’re preparing yourself emotionally and mentally to deal with a traumatic event. When it doesn’t happen, that surge of relief and pleasure we feel is coming from the prolactin hormone. When you’re listening to that really sad song, you also may be experiencing that same hormone. We also know that sad music releases dopamine, the feel-good hormone. Listening to music you love will actually release more dopamine, making you feel good.

Music is empowering, and most sad songs also have a message that it will be okay. We all need to know it’ll be okay, or at least that we can find the strength to get through the seasons of our lives that are overwhelming and difficult. Think about “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor. If someone breaks up with you, you’re not going to crawl on the floor in grief. You will survive this. Music can also be a great way to trigger good memories that you had of a person. Maybe that person sang that particular sad song in the car and hearing that song over and over will help you relive the good memories you have of that person.

One example of a sad song that can help with depression is Coldplay’s “Fix You.” The first two verses of the song talk about different scenarios like trying your best but not succeeding, not getting what you need, not being able to sleep, and feeling sad from losing something irreplaceable. Then the chorus tells the listener “the lights will guide you home” and “I will try to fix you.” Listening to those words will inspire hope in listeners that this band knows what you are going through but is telling you that there is always light at the end of the tunnel. At the end of the song, it’s like the listener is answering back to this advice and saying “I promise you I will learn from all my mistakes.” This song recaps what kind of emotional problems you may be experiencing while giving you the message to try, no matter what obstacles get in your way.

Another great example of a sad song to make you feel better is “This is Me” from the musical movie “The Greatest Showman.” This song is sung by circus performers who all look different from the society norm of the 19th century. The song starts with the bearded lady singing that people have told her in the past to hide because no one will love her because of the way that she looks. But then towards the chorus, she is saying that whenever someone wants to make her feel bad, “I’m gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out.” She says that despite being bruised, she believes that she is strong and brave and will no longer hide who she is from anyone. Then the rest of the circus performers join in singing these same words which empowers the audience as well. Anyone who is suffering with depression because they are bullied, having facial deformities, or anything else that people pick on you for can hear this song and feel empowered to push past those words and be your best and true self.

As helpful as the melancholy songs may be, they can also be a distraction from reality if you listen to them too much. You cannot stay held up in your room just listening to a marathon of these sad song as the problems you are trying to escape will still be there. You need to take the inspirational messages that these songs are feeding you and apply them to the real world. Maybe this will inspire you to write your own song or poem where you use your own vocabulary and emotions to convey a message. Someone out there may read your work and feel helped just like when you were listening to other artists. Listening to sad music can show you that anyone can be sad but to turn that sadness into empowerment that you can do anything.