FEB 09, 2023 10:42 AM PST

The Musically Active Have a Slightly Higher Risk of Some Mental Illness

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

Music can be great for our mental health, and music is sometimes used as a form of therapy. But it can also seem like creative people including musicians experience more mental health issues than others. Using data from a large Swedish biobank, researchers showed in a 2019 Scientific Reports publication that people who are musically active have a slightly higher genetic risk of depression and bipolar disorder. The research team has now expanded on the findings.

Image credit: Pixabay

The latest study, reported in Translational Psychiatry, showed that playing instruments or singing do not cause mental health problems. "In other words, people do not make music in response to their mental health problems or vice versa," noted first study author Laura Wesseldijk of the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics (MPIEA). "Rather, the link can be attributed to shared genetic factors and influences from the family environment."

There is some overlap between genetic variants that have been connected to mental health issues and variants that are linked to musical engagement. But the environment, such as family life during childhood, also has an affect on the association between musical engagement and mental health.

This study utilized genetic data from 5,648 individuals, along with information the participants provided about their creative and athletic endeavors, mental health, and musical engagement. The researchers could assess the genetic risk of mental illness, or the predisposition for musicality, for the study volunteers - a so-called polygenic score for those traits.

People who had a greater risk for depression and bipolar disorder tended to be more musically active, as well as practicing more, and performing at a higher artistic level, on average, compared to those not at greater risk. This was true whether or not the individuals had actually been diagnosed with a mental health disorder.

People who were more genetically likely to be musically engaged were also at a slightly higher risk of getting depression, whether or not they actually sang or played an instrument. These results seems to confirm the idea that there is overlap among genes that affect mental health and musical engagement.

"The overall relationship between making music and mental health is thus very complex: familial and genetic factors can influence both musicality and mental health. Furthermore, musicians appear to have a slightly higher genetic risk for certain mental illnesses," said senior study author Miriam Mosing of the MPIEA.

Music can still be beneficial to our mental health, noted the researchers. They are now studying whether the complete absorption in an activity such as playing music, a phenomenon known as flow, has a good impact on mental health. Music therapy is discussed in the video above.

Sources: Max Planck Society, Translational Psychiatry

About the Author
Bachelor's (BA/BS/Other)
Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on over 30 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 70 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
Loading Comments...