Oct. 2, 2018

Prescribe music for better mental health

Mathison Centre explores surprising role of music in self-care; week-long event continues Oct. 2-5

There are few things that stimulate the brain the way music does. Research shows that listening to music can reduce anxiety, blood pressure, and pain, while improving sleep quality, mental health, and memory.

For internationally known cellist Johanne Perron, music is the only way to communicate with her mother, who has dementia. “I’ve seen music work miracles,” says Perron, who developed Bach to Health. “Mom doesn’t speak, but she can sing a song and we can re-engage her. And, when my husband’s mom was dying, he played his cello and she woke up and recognized everyone. It was a wonderful moment.”

Perron’s personal story rings true to Jennifer Buchanan, a leading expert on music therapy, “I’ve witnessed that when you find the right music at the right time in the right way, a client starts feeling the desired state they want to feel, less anxious, less stressed, and more creative. Music therapy interventions come in many forms, and are individualized, for some it’s drumming, for others it’s singing or songwriting.”

Buchanan and Perron were the opening presenters at the Mathison Centre’s Music and Mental Health week. Students, faculty, staff and the public are invited to free noon-hour events Oct. 2 to 5 at three different locations: main campus, Foothills campus and the Alberta Children’s Hospital.

Beyond bringing relaxation through music, the week is designed to enhance understanding of the role of music in mental health and wellness. At any age, music has been shown to help improve physical and mental health. In adults, music therapy is used to promote recovery after a stroke. In children, music can shorten stays at the hospital.

Internationally known cellist Johanne Perron opens Mathison Centre Music and Mental Health Week on Monday, Oct. 1. The free noon-hour events run Oct. 2 to 5.

Internationally known cellist Johanne Perron opens Mathison Centre Music and Mental Health Week on M

Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

“Music affects people on a cellular level,” says Dr. Andrew Bulloch, PhD, professor in the departments of community health sciencesphysiology and pharmacology and psychiatry, member of the Hotchkiss Brain Institute, and O’Brien Institute for Public Health at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM) and the education director of the Mathison Centre for Mental Health Research and Education. “There’s a wealth of good evidence that music is therapeutic for mood, anxiety and psychotic disorders.”

Buchanan says we can all benefit from using music more intentionally. “It’s one thing to turn music on in your house and set a mood. But I encourage people to experience music on a deeper level. Purposefully pick a piece of music that soothes you and sit down and listen to it with intent. It’s an excellent method of self-care.”

If you missed Monday’s event, there are still lots of opportunities to hear world-class musicians and experts in the field of music therapy, and brain and mental health. Still to come, soloist and educator Janet Youngdahl, a soprano and specialist in early music; Walter MacDonald White Bear, Cree singer-songwriter and performer; the Calgary Police Pipe Band; the Instrumental Society of Calgary, accompanied by UCalgary members including Faculty of Arts professor Edmond Agopian; a violin soloist and director of the Calgary Youth Orchestra.

The Mathison Centre’s Music and Mental Health Week is hosted in collaboration with the Hotchkiss Brain Institute and the School of Creative and Performing Arts, with support from Shire.

The events are being held in conjunction with Mental Illness Awareness Week, an annual national public education campaign about the realities of mental illness.

Led by the Hotchkiss Brain Institute, Brain and Mental Health is one of six research strategies guiding the University of Calgary toward its Eyes High goals. The strategy provides a unifying direction for brain and mental health research at the university and positions researchers to unlock new discoveries and treatments for brain health in our community. 

Interested in finding out more about this topic?

  • Learn more here about the latest research into factors that lead to anxiety and depression, and what we can do to prevent them.