Music for improved Mental Health management in adolescence – pilot testing of new mobile app

Pilot testing of new music mobile phone app

Researchers from the MARCS Institute for Brain, Behaviour and Development at Western Sydney University are developing a new and innovative online program and mobile app that will use music to help young people understand their depression, teach users how to more effectively manage their moods, and encourage increased use of professional mental health services.

Working closely with young people with depression and a team of clinical advisors to co-develop the program entitled Music for Mental Health: An Online Program for Raising Awareness of Unhealthy Behaviours in Adolescents with Depression, pilot testing will commence in January and February 2019.

Suicide is the leading cause of death among young Australians under the age of 25 (1), and a staggering 80-90% of young people with depression do not get professional help (2).

Dr Sandra Garrido, Deputy Program Leader of the Music, Cognition & Action Research group at the MARCS Institute says she first became interested in the relationship between music and mental health when she observed a close friend who had been diagnosed with clinical depression continually listening to what appeared to be very depressing music.

“The music only seemed to make him feel worse, and yet he continued to listen to it”, says Dr Garrido.

“This stirred me to investigate whether people with depression used music differently to other people, and whether the effect music had on them was different as well.”

Researching this question for the last decade, Dr Garrido and her research team at the MARCS Institute have identified key findings:

  • Young people increase their music listening during episodes of depression.
  • People with depression are often attracted to music that perpetuates negative patterns of thinking.
  • Music listening strategies that people without depression use to manage their moods often do not work for people with depression.
  • People with depression vary in their level of awareness about the effect that their music listening has on their moods and mental health.

While healthier music choices can’t be “prescribed” for young people with depression, Dr Garrido’s research has shown that helping young people to become more aware of the effects of their listening choices can help them to use music more effectively, providing an important tool for managing their moods and depression.

“Our new online program and app is not just another music recommendation service; it will help young people to explore their own relationship with music and how it affects their moods.”

“We are drawing on evidence based treatments such as cognitive behavioural therapy to provide an appealing form of psycho-education for young people”, says Dr Garrido.

The results of Dr Garrido’s multiple studies involving over one thousand participants demonstrate that music has a big influence on the mental health of young people. As many young people are not getting professional help for mental health issues, it is important to find appealing ways to reach young people experiencing psychological distress.

Based on a model developed through consultation and feedback from young people, a systematic review of research about features of effective online mental health programs, and an expert panel of clinical psychologist advisors, the app will work automatically in the background as users listen to music on popular streaming services such as Spotify, prompting them to record thoughts, feelings and behaviours that arise in response to specific songs.

In building upon the current music listening behaviour of young people, this program will provide an appealing and engaging way for those who are reluctant to seek professional help to learn how to better manage their depression.

Pilot testing will commence in early 2019 among participants aged 16-25 years of age who will use the program over a six week period. Outcome measures of mental health literacy, coping self-efficacy and mood will be taken. Secondary outcome measures include metrics generated by the program itself relating to program usage and use of links to mental health services.

Dr Sandra Garrido and her team will be continually working on the program in close consultation with young people, taking on their feedback and experiences as they work through the next phase of clinical testing and RCT trials throughout 2019.

(1) Australian Institute of Health & Welfare. Deaths. 2018.

(2) Lawrence D, Johnson S, Hafekost J, Boterhoven De Hann K, Sawyer M, Ainley J, et al. The mental health of children and adolescents. Report on the second Australian Child and Adolescent Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing. Canberra: Department of Health; 2015.


11 December 2018

Danielle Aiken, Research Media & Communications Officer