It makes sense that a chirpy tune should lift your mood, doesn’t it? Well no, not necessarily. In my darkest moods on my darkest days of depression, an excessively cheerful song would have been about as uplifting as a bad motivational speaker shouting “FANTASTIC!” in my face.

On the flip side, it’s possible to worsen your mood by listening to something bleak and miserable. I do believe music is good for mental health, though, even if it’s only a passing distraction. But given that depression is a different experience for everyone, that everyone’s musical tastes are different, and that moods swing up and down like a kangaroo on a bungee rope, is there really a certain sort of music that can help?

I don’t know the answer to that question but I can tell you about the music that has meant something to me during my own experience of depression. Here is my personal playlist.

Music and mood

Last October, when I dropped back into the depression pit at great speed, my mind was permanently racing and it felt like my brain was going to explode. I wasn’t sleeping at night and was tense, agitated, irritable and felt beaten up by life. A song by my favourite band, the Kinks, told me that their songwriting genius and front man, Ray Davies, had been through something like this too, and put it very eloquently in his song Too Much On My Mind. It was a song I’d always enjoyed listening to (it’s a nice little song despite the lyrics) but it suddenly meant a lot more to me. In fact, it was as if I’d written the words myself:

There’s too much on my mind

There’s too much on my mind

And I can’t sleep at night thinking about it


My thoughts just weigh me down

And drag me to the ground

And shake my head till there’s no more life in me

From my favourite band to my favourite singer – Elvis Presley. I’ve found Elvis’s gospel recordings quite soothing at times when I’ve been struggling, and one song in particular reflected the prayer I was silently saying every morning: Help Me. I couldn’t think of much else to say for myself, so this song was quite useful in saying it for me:

Lord, help me walk another mile, just one more mile
I’m tired of walkin’ all alone
Lord, help me smile another smile, just one more smile
You know I just can’t make it on my own

Following on from this rather neatly is a Queen classic – The Show Must Go On. The version I’ve listened to most is the one the band performed with Elton John, not necessarily because I prefer it but because there is no way on earth that I can hit Freddie Mercury’s high notes. Through much of my depression, at various times over a three-year period, I’ve managed to do the whole ‘putting on a brave face’ thing, tricking most people into thinking I was still as cheerful inside as I looked on the outside. This song serves me well on those days when I don’t feel like doing anything but have to do something:

The show must go on
The show must go on
Inside my heart is breaking
My make-up may be flaking
But my smile still stays on

And now for something completely different – Eminem’s Not Afraid. I’m not very macho and I am not very good at swearing, so hip hop is an unlikely genre of music for me to enjoy. But there is something incredibly powerful about a bad boy like Eminem baring his soul to fans and foes alike and telling them what it feels like to fight depression and addiction. ‘Fight’ is the crucial word here – this is a fighting song. Yes, he’s had a tough time but now he’s taking on the world and he’s bringing us all with him.

Not Afraid has become one of my favourite songs and is great for venting anger and mustering up some kind of determination. OK, there’s loads of foul language in it, but there are some great depression-kicking lyrics too:

Yeah, it’s been a ride

I guess I had to go to that place

To get to this one

Now some of you might still be in that place

If you’re trying to get out

Just follow me

I’ll get you there


I’m not afraid, to take a stand

Everybody, come take my hand

We’ll walk this road together, through the storm

Whatever weather, cold or warm

Just lettin’ you know that you’re not alone

Holler if you feel like you’ve been down the same road


I’ma be what I set out to be, without a doubt, undoubtedly

And all those who look down on me, I’m tearin’ down your balcony

and, most inspiring of all:

… the way I feel, I’m strong enough to go to the club
Or the corner pub, and lift the whole liquor counter up
Cause I’m raising the bar
I’d shoot for the moon but I’m too busy gazing at stars
I feel amazing and I’m not afraid…

There was one song I always imagined singing when I reached ‘the end’ of my depression, and that was I Can See Clearly Now by Jimmy Cliff. However, I’ve since stopped believing in waiting to do things in case the chance never arises, so on good days I enjoy belting it out anyway. When is the ‘end’ of depression anyway? Is it when you feel better or is it when you can stop taking the medication? Never mind that, this is a song of optimism, hope, and of celebration of a triumph over adversity, and if you feel able to join in with Jimmy, go for it:

I can see clearly now the rain is gone

I can see all obstacles in my way

Gone are the dark clouds that had me down

It’s gonna be a bright, bright, sun shiny day

Oh yes I can make it now the pain is gone

All of the bad feelings have disappeared

Here is that rainbow I’ve been praying for

It’s gonna be a bright, bright sun shiny day

I’ll end with a more recent hit. Express Yourself is a great song, whether it’s the original version by Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band, the rap anthem by NWA or the newest incarnation by Labrinth, but it’s the latter that I’m really enjoying at the moment. The verse I really like, added by Labrinth, reinforces a very wise message about the importance of accepting yourself and being who you are without worrying what other people think:

I say the same thing twice, I’m awkward when I speak

Ain’t got the perfect smile, don’t turn heads on my street

Trying to be a superstar like everybody else

But being myself is something I do well

So, what music inspires you and gets you through your dark times? Let me know!



I am Paul Brook. I am a husband, Dad, local panto fool, writer, Christian, Yorkshireman, vegetarian and lots of other things, but above all, I'm just me. I love nonsense, laughing, walking, wildlife, coming up with ideas and encouraging people. I'm recovering from depression and have been writing about mental health since September 2011 on my blog, I also write about family life, wildlife, Yorkshire and anything else that takes my fancy. You can follow me on Twitter @paulbrook76

4 Responses to Music and mental health: my personal playlist

  1. Thanks very much, Jenny.

    on December 31, 2012 at 10:59 am Paul

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