published Friday, April 8th, 2011

Phillips: Study links music to teen depression

Last week, I managed, in one fell swoop, to do two things that, until recently, I would have found completely unpalatable.

First, I bought a Britney Spears album — her latest, “Femme Fatale.” Second, I bought said album digitally through iTunes.

Even as recently as two years ago, I would have balked at buying digital music, which felt like throwing my money away with nothing to show for it but a handful of computer files. Now, I regularly purchase two to three albums off iTunes every week.

Ditto my feelings about the molasses-thick production of mainstream pop like that served up in “Femme Fatale.” Not too long ago, I turned my nose up at that kind of music, which I dismissed as basically worthless pandering to the lowest common denominator.

Now, I appreciate the ability of dexterous producers to engage me, even if it means I do so on a shallow level that has everything to do with the beat and nothing to do with substantive lyrics. Sure, I’m only half listening to Britney’s admittedly bland vocals, but my feet are tapping, which is the whole point.

I still wouldn’t argue that divas like Britney, Miley Cyrus or Ke$ha are as creatively compelling as most independent musicians, but based solely on the grounds of what they’re trying to achieve, it’s hard to argue they’re unsuccessful when the music is so effective at getting its hooks in you.

Personally, listening to upbeat, poppy songs like that just makes me happy, which ultimately is the whole point of music, right?

Not necessarily, according to a study released in the April edition of the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine that found an association between listening to music and major depressive disorder in some teens.

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine looked for potential links between depression and exposure to six types of media. About 60 times over the course of two months, 106 participants, 46 of whom were diagnosed with depression, were contacted to report their media habits.

According to the study, which doesn’t draw any concrete conclusions, adolescents exposed to music the most were 8.3 times more likely to be depressed than those who listened the least.

Read the full study here.

As interesting as they are, I have a hard time giving these findings too much credence since: a) I’m not a clinically depressed teen and b) they run so contradictory to my personal experiences when I was a teenager.

First and foremost, I’d like to know what the participants were listening to. After all, there’s a big difference between a playlist of upbeat hits by The Beach Boys and a maudlin track like The Smiths’ “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now.”

At its core, I find all music essentially cathartic. As a result, my library includes sunny electro-pop alongside depressing think pieces by Dylan and Bright Eyes.

Even tearjerkers serve a vital purpose. After all, as Sir Elton tells us in “Sad Songs (Say So Much)”: “The kick inside is in the line that finally gets to you, and it feels so good to hurt so bad.”

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...

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