Heavy Metal and Mental Health

This is the part of the site that looks at the research about metal and mental health specifically.

Research in almost all areas will have findings that disagree with each other, and the research about metal is no different. In the 90s there were a collection of studies that showed that people (mainly male teenagers and young adults) who listened to metal seemed to be more prone to certain types of problems such as:

Reckless behaviour

Vulnerability to suicide

Alienation from society

Depression and Anxiety (later in 2013)

Some of these studies were correlational, which means how one variable relates to another – an example of a correlation would be that the number of ice cream sales increases when the number of hospital admissions for sunburn also increases.  The important thing to know about correlations is you cannot tell what causes what, so in the example before, you couldn’t say that buying ice cream causes sunburn.  Similarly, you can’t say that listening to metal causes people to be suicidal.  Some people felt that there might be other factors that cause both things (so in our ice cream/sunburn example, that could be something like outside temperature). Just to stick with the suicide example for now, one study found that when you look at other factors and control for their effects the link between metal and suicide goes away.  This is based on quite a complicated maths thing called logistical regression, but basically means that preference for heavy metal does not seem to cause increased risk of suicide.  Interestingly, this study also found that girls who used music for ‘vicarious release’ (or in other words as a way of expressing feelings) were less likely to be suicidal:   Metal and suicide

Generally speaking, most studies find that the music itself is not the factor that causes the problems, see this one for a review.  Another interesting little study found that while people who listened to metal may struggle with self-esteem, young people who were classed as ‘gifted’ tended to like metal and find it helpful for managing anger.  This was a conference presentation so there is no paper linked to it, but it was well covered in the  media and there is a good summary of it here.

There have been some other studies which suggest that listening to metal may help people to process or manage difficult emotions, especially anger. These two studies look at this based on making people angry and seeing how they respond (here)and asking people about how they manage their moods with music (here).

This article is quite an accessible review of some of the work of music psychologist William Forde Thompson and colleagues about why people like angry themes in metal music, fans of metal tend to report positive emotions when listening. There’s links to the original papers in there too.  They have a project about ‘violence in music’ that you can find out more about here.  There is also a related nice paper here which both summarises some of the research discussed above, but also analyses metal lyrics and proposes that listening to metal and moshing may be helpful for processing emotions.

There’s also some stuff about metal helping people to feel included in a community or feel less alienated, especially if they have had some difficult experiences before like bullying.

This study was reported on in quite a few metal magazines and websites as it shows that the metal community and metal identify can be a positive thing for mental health, and may even protect against mental health problems.

This is another related earlier study

Kyle Messick is a social psychologist who researches metal and mental heath including this study (written with colleagues Aranda & Day) which interviewed metalheads who had lived experience of mental health problems, finding that they reported the metal community to be helpful and supportive, and that they found the reference to mental health in metal lyrics to also be helpful (though sometimes the depictions of mental health difficulties were not always accurate).  Another one of his studies also written with colleague Blanca Aranda, here, looked at lyric preference, personality traits and moral reasoning, finding evidence that suggests that metal lyrics do not seem to influence moral reasoning negatively as had sometimes been thought (with the direction of this relationship appearing to be the other way round in this case).

So…what does all of that mean? Firstly, there’s not loads of research about this in comparison to some other areas of mental health, we could do with some more really, and we’d like to maybe do some of our own at some point.  However, it seems like there is some evidence that young adults and teenagers who are experiencing some difficulties may be more drawn to heavy metal, but listening to metal in itself does not cause problems.  It might be a useful coping strategy for some people to manage emotions, especially anger.  Being part of the metalhead community might be a way of feeling accepted and included too.