Music therapy reduces depression in children and young people

Ground breaking research from Queen’s University suggests that music therapy is an effective option in treating children and teenagers with mental health difficulties.

The Big Lottery funded “Music in Mind” study – for which we provided the therapy – involved 251 children and young people between March 2011 and May 2014. They were divided into two groups – 128 underwent the standard care, while 123 were assigned to music therapy. Those taking part had 12 weekly sessions lasting half an hour. In their sessions they used music in various forms including improvisation and song writing to explore their thoughts and feelings in a safe, non-judgmental environment.

The therapy significantly improved self-esteem and reduced depression in all the children and young people. It also improved communication and interaction skills among adolescents. All were being treated for social, emotional or behavioural problems. Early findings suggest that the benefits are sustained in the long term.

Professor Sam Porter of Queen’s University, who led the research, said: “This study is hugely significant in terms of determining effective treatments for children and young people with behavioural problems and mental health needs. This is the largest study ever to be carried out looking at music therapy’s ability to help this very vulnerable group, and is further evidence of how Queen’s University is advancing knowledge and changing lives.”

Our Chief Executive, Ciara Reilly, said: “Music therapy has often been used with children and young people with particular mental health needs, but this is the first time its effectiveness has been shown by a definitive randomised controlled trail in a clinical setting. The findings are dramatic and underscore the need for music therapy to be made available to medical professionals as a mainstream treatment option. For a long time we have relied on anecdotal evidence and small-scale research findings about how well music therapy works. Now we have robust clinical evidence to show its beneficial effects.”

The research team will now look at the data to establish how cost-effective music therapy is in relation to other treatments.

The findings of the study were presented at a conference in Riddel Hall at Queen’s University attended by Health Minister Jim Wells, OFMDFM Ministers Jennifer McCann and Jonathan Bell, and international experts in the field of music therapy.

Mr Wells told the conference he would look at the research to help inform his decisions when allocating health resources.