The amount of time a tween or teen spends listening to music appears to be associated with his risk of major depression, a new study shows. Study researchers are quick to point out that the music probably isn’t causing the depression, although it may be a way for children to find refuge or connection when they’re feeling bad.
“It’s very important not to interpret this as something evil about music. In fact, it may actually be very helpful to people who are very depressed,” says study researcher Brian A. Primack, MD, assistant professor of medicine and pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
“I think the reason it was important to publish is because it is a very strong association,” Primack says. In fact, Primack and his co-authors found that the most frequent music listeners in the study had more than eight times the odds of being depressed compared with those who listened the least.
The study wasn’t designed to measure total listening times, but based on previous research, Primack estimates that children in the highest-use group are probably plugged into their iPods or stereos for more than four or five hours a day. “It’s an important thing to know about because it may help clinicians and parents and teachers to realize that very heavy use could be a marker for depression in some people,” he says.
The study also found that children who were depressed were less likely to read books, magazines, or newspapers, compared to children who weren’t depressed. That may suggest either that reading may have some protective effects against depression or that children who are depressed can’t concentrate long enough to engage in it.
Media and Depression: For the study, researchers recruited 46 children with major depressive disorder and 60 of their peers who had no history of psychiatric disorders. Study participants ranged in age from 7 to 17. The average age was 12. All the children were given special cell phones that could only take incoming calls.
Researchers used the phones to call the recruits several times each day from Friday to Monday, over five long weekends. Those who completed all 60 phone calls got a $250 bonus. At each phone call, participants were asked if they were currently watching, reading, or listening to any of six different kinds of media -- television or movies, music, video games, Internet or magazines, or newspapers or books.
They then divided study participants into four groups, based on the amount of time they spent with each kind of entertainment and cross-referenced it with depression status. Internet and video game use appeared to have no association with depression, and in a surprise to researchers, neither did TV or movie viewing.