Are metal fans more likely to be depressed?

Blabbermouth.net posted an interesting little article about a study done by University of Melbourne professor Katrina McFerran. Blabbermouth reports McFerran found teens who listen to metal “habitually and repetitively”  are more likely to suffer from depression.

McFerran — who is listed at the University of Melbourne Web site as a music therapist, researcher and lecturer with a specialty in music therapy for adolescents and children with disabilities — interviewed 50 teens between the ages of 13 and 18 and conducted a nationwide survey of 1,000 other teens while compiling her study.

According to university press release, “young people at risk of depression are more likely to be listening to music, particularly heavy metal music, in a negative way.” McFerran’s study concluded.

“Examples of this are when someone listens to the same song or album of heavy metal music over and over again and doesn’t listen to anything else,” the press release quotes McFerran as saying. “They do this to isolate themselves or escape from reality.”

“If this behavior continues over a period of time then it might indicate that this young person is suffering from depression or anxiety, and at worst, might suggest suicidal tendencies,” McFerran says in the press release.

McFerran says parents should pay attention to the music their children are listening to and should ask questions if a child’s behavior raises concerns.

“If parents are worried, they should ask their children questions like – how does that music make you feel?” the press release quotes McFerran as saying. “If children say the music reflects or mirrors the way they feel then ask more about what the music is saying.”

The comments on Blabbermouth were, for the most part, predictably histrionic. Without bothering with direct quotes, many of comments were in the vein of “metal’s awesome,” “I listen to metal and I’m not depressed,” and “McFerran sucks.”

But I think McFerran raises an interesting question — why do people listen to certain types of metal, and what does the music do for (or to) them?

The answer, of course, is that there is no one answer. People listen to music for a variety of reasons — and yes, one of those reasons (for some people) is that music reinforces their world view. That’s true of more genres than metal — country star Taylor Swift (and I’m only slightly familiar with her work) seems to have several songs about broken hearts and love gone wrong. Now, do people listen to those songs because they feel empowered by the fact that other people have also suffered broken hearts and have lived to tell the tale — or do they listen to them because they want to wallow in their pain?

Again, the answer depends on the individual. Somewhere, if we could find them, I’d sure we would come across scores of women and girls who play Swift’s broken heart songs repeatedly because they are experiencing the pain of a relationship gone wrong. Some of those women will feel better by identifying with the sentiments in the song, while others will be reminded of their own pain and feel worse.

My point here is that any depressed person is going to find music in any genre  that could potentially feed their feelings of isolation and sadness. I’m a big fan of classical music, but there are some pieces I won’t listen to because they’re just too much of a downer. Jazz, blues and even pop music are also full of sad tunes; It’s not hard to imagine a depressed person obsessively playing Miles Davis’ “Flemenco Sketches” over and over and feeling even bluer than before.

But McFerran singles out metal — or, more specifically, the teens she interviewed who were depressed more often than not indicated a preference for metal music. Well, certainly, metal (generally) is darker music than country or classical or pop, so a person with a dark mindset could be drawn to metal’s dark themes. But that’s not the case for everyone.

Some people, myself included, find metal rather empowering; as McFerran says the University of Melbourne press release, some people use metal as exercise music; I never go for a run without metal on my mp3 player — and when I recently ran a half-marathon, songs like Motorhead’s “Deaf Forever” and S.O.D.’s “United Forces” gave me an energy boost at times when I was feeling tired.

But when I’m not pounding pavement, I still listen to metal — largely because I think it’s fun. Sure, there’s policial, religious and social commentary thrown in by some of the better bands … but mostly metal is just exciting music . I don’t listen to any music that makes me sad, or would make a bad day worse; for example, I think Nine Inch Nails’ “The Downward Spiral” is a fantastic metal album … I just never want to hear it again.

I agree with McFerran that parents should be aware of what kind of music their children listen to — just as parents should know what movies and TV shows their kids watch and who they socialize with on a daily basis. I also think, if a child is listening to sad songs in any genre over and over, that’s cause for an intervention.

I think McFerran’s study is even-handed — and I think McFerran would agree that not every teen metal fan is depressed and not every depressed teen is a metal fan.

Hopefully, parents and adults won’t use McFerran’s study to stereotype metal fans. There are a lot of teen metal fans who are doing just fine.

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1 Comment

  1. To some people (like me) music is everything. It can make you laugh, cry, cheer you up, depress you, dance…..

    So to label metal heads with depression because of the music repeats is wrongly targetted. Any kid who listens to the same song on repeat will get depressed after a while.

    “I’ll Be Missing You”, “Girlfriend in a Coma”, “Everybody Hurts”

    Put those three on repeat and then hide the knives!


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