Many of today’s teenagers and adolescents spend several hours a day under headphones or in front of computer screens. Does what they listen to, or watch or play, make an impact on their behavior? Some of the most popular choices among young people these days range from violent, post apocalyptic video games and movies to angst-ridden Emo songs that feature long wailing choruses. Are these media stimulants soothing selections, or disturbing influences? One study revealed a few surprises.

Is your teenager’s mental health impacted by the music they listen to?

Parents might not be shocked to hear that a study revealed depressed teens and adolescents spend a lot of their time listening to music. The study did not point to any particular bands or groups as being dangerous to teens with mental health issues. It did not suggest, for example, that repeatedly listening to the words of “Creep,” by Radiohead, or Beck’s “Loser,” would provoke a behavior disorder.

Lyrics from “Creep” by Radiohead

“But I’m a creep, I’m a weirdo / What the hell am I doing here? / I don’t belong here.”

Lyrics from “Loser” by Beck

“I’m a loser baby so why don’t you kill me?”

If your child is withdrawing and listening to music, it might be a good time to open a dialogue, Dr. Brian Primack told NPR. “Depression is harder to discover in young people compared to older people. Sometimes the signs and symptoms in adolescence are different,” he said. “Maybe there’s more irritability as opposed to sadness. Music may be a clue that a child needs help.”

Dr. Primack said his study at the University of Pittsburgh concluded that it’s more likely that depressed teenagers merely turn to music for comfort. “They don’t feel like doing anything. They don’t have a lot of energy, and this is a place where they can go and they don’t have to perform.”

Does a teenager’s favorite music be a sign depression?

Content of music for teens is something that parents and educators may argue about, but that might not be the real issue. Decades ago, certain heavy medal bands were said to have enticed suicide attempts among young listeners. These urban legends only enhanced their reputations and album sales. There were never any criminal charges or news stories. The study only confirms these legends are probably myths. It did not suggest that music could be the cause of mental illness. “At this point, it is not clear whether depressed people begin to listen to more music to escape, or whether listening to large amounts of music can lead to depression, or both,” said Primack in a statement.

Primack and his research team surveyed 106 teenagers on private cellphones up to 60 times over a period of eight weeks. Nearly half of the teens had been diagnosed with clinical depression. When they were called, the teenagers reported that they were watching TV or movies 26 percent of the time.

Earlier studies showed that teenagers routinely spend nearly 7.5 hours a day watching TV, surfing the Web, texting, or listening to MP3 devices. Primack and his team were looking for a link between prolonged media exposure and depression. When the numbers were correlated, music was the common bond among the depressed.

It’s not the song, it’s the symptom

The teenagers who listened to a lot of music were 8 times more likely to be depressed than those who didn’t listen to music very often. The amount of time that some depressed teenagers spent listening to music was the obvious concern. Too much time away from others can lead to feelings of isolation. Also, if teens listen to music (secretly) for several hours at night, this can interfere with sleep, and poor sleeping habits can interfere with school.

Reading and Recovery

Teenagers that read, however, were far less likely to be diagnosed with depression. They were also a minority. Only 0.2 percent of the teenagers said they were reading a book, magazine, or newspaper when they were called. The teenagers that read the most were just one-tenth as likely to be depressed as the ones who read the least, NPR reported.

If music soothes the savage beast, does the study mean that reading heals the troubled soul? Primack speculates that the lack of depression among the reading teens is because reading is a far less passive activity than watching TV or listening to music. “You really have to engage a lot of your brain when you read,” he said. “It may be that people who are depressed just can’t gather enough energy to do that type or thing.”

Know the Signs, But Not the Steps?

If someone you love is struggling with the symptoms of depression or a behavior disorder, Discovery Mood can help! Call now at 800.760.3934. Our personalized behavior modification programs are tailored to fit your needs. Creative therapies, such as music, are frequently integrated into our comprehensive approach. Discovery Mood provides multi-faceted levels of care that range from residential treatment, intensive outpatient treatment, to partial hospitalization for adolescents and teens that are struggling with depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, self-harm behaviors, gender identity, oppositional defiant disorder, eating disorders, and other major mental health disorders. Call now and speak with one of our highly trained admission specialists today. All calls are completely FREE and completely confidential.



What Comes First: Depression In Teens Or Emo Music? by Nancy Shute. Retrieved Sept 20, 2016.

TIME: Are Music-Loving Teens More Likely to Be Depressed? by Amie Ninh. Retrieved Sept 20, 2016.

Association for Natural Psychology: Time Listening to Popular Music Correlated with Major Depression – Major Depressive Disorder – in Adolescents. Retrieved Sept 20, 2016.

Using Ecological Momentary Assessment to Determine Media Use by Individuals With and Without Major Depressive Disorder, by Brian A. Primack, MD, Jennifer S. Silk, PhD, Christian R. DeLozier, BS, William G. Shadel, PhD, Francesca R. Dillman Carpentier, PhD, Ronald E. Dahl, MD, Galen E. Switzer, PhD. Retrieved Sept 20, 2016.