Anxiety, depression high among metal fans

by Brett Stevens
April 16, 2013 –

heavy_metal_anxietyLook, science journalism, it’s time for us to have a chat. I read you every day, but when you write about metal, I wince even before I read the article.

Here’s why: check out this article in which it summarizes research findings that ‘An analysis of 551 college students found “significantly higher levels of anxiety and depression among listeners of heavy metal/hard rock music, as compared with non-listeners.”’

While this is a reasonable assessment of the original study, keep in mind that science is a world in which we find out relationships between things before we find cause. Thus, there’s a few problems with this article:

  1. 551 people from community colleges around San Diego is not exactly a representative sample;
  2. The term “heavy metal” means a lot of things to a lot of people, but that doesn’t make them all right;
  3. We’re not sure whether this anxiety pre-dated the heavy metal or not;
  4. We’re not sure whether this anxiety is a result from honest and realistic fears about the future of society, whether brought on by minds opened by metal or not.

You can forgive us for being a little twitchy here in the metal world. Every time someone shoots up a school, there’s someone in the media or Congress looking to blame heavy metal. Heck, they almost banned us back in the 1980s with the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC). But when studies come out, and then you give them a headline that makes it sound like heavy metal “causes” these problems, you’re giving ammunition to the bad guys.

Even more, this article has a huge picture of Rage Against the Machine on top. Who ever considered them to be metal? They don’t even like metal. They’d hate being called heavy metal. That’s like calling Nirvana metal, while Kurt Cobain was talking about how heavy metal was out of ideas and offended him politically.

Now let’s look at the good news:

Among those who listen to heavy metal, there were no significant differences in anger, anxiety, or depression among frequent as opposed to occasional listeners. The key factor seems to be the inclination to be drawn to this music, rather than the amount of time spent listening to it.

Translation: there’s something in fans before they hear heavy metal that makes them prone to being anxious about the future of our world. It’s unclear whether they’d be anxious in a different society, or even a more stable one.

Naturally, this pushes back against the idea that pure, perfect children turn into drug-abusing, crime-committing, sheep-raping suicidal maniacs the instant you let them listen to heavy metal. It also suggests that trying to slam that barn door extra hard after the horses are gone, and shutting off your kid’s music, won’t do any good.

Fortunately, it also points out that metalheads aren’t prone to anger or depression. In fact, as other research points out, it may be the smarter kids who are drifting toward heavy metal. This suggests that anxiety may be a side-effect of intelligence and awareness of what’s going on in the world, not “heavy metal poisoning.”

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14 comments

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  • Krov

    Metal is and should be just superior art compared to mainstream standards.

    The subculture itself is comprised structurally of the same dicks who conform and vie for status just like it happens outside of it, it’s just the mode of expression that changes. Depressives who likely just work analogously to a botched reality won’t find true alternatives there because metal is largely escapist, descriptive in its best and most awkward moments and everything but pragmatic, which probably saves it as an art form.

    It’s always hard to see artists or adherents make good points and see them drown in amnestic beer fests and be wasted in vying hipsters and other ephemera. Truth is as always in a disenchanted one percent orthodoxy which of course everyone claims posturing in stereotypes, and if it wants to survive – metal truly cannot be diluted – it has to remain apart and antagonistic. Science and society should have no active part in it, lest its just leather and distorted guitars and little else.

    Oh, and Rest In Dirt Turd Cobaine, warning to what metal never shall become, like trying to save the world or making any sense of it.

  • bitterman

    Well, with Katatonia, Ulver, and Cynic, for example, turning people into crybabies this sounds right. What ever happened to MANLY DEPRESSION (UGGHHH!!!) like Bolt Thrower? Yeah, World War 3 will suck but at least we’ll be emotionally prepared for it, thanks to Karl Willetts, his fascination with Warhammer, and their super heavy powerful riffs. Even then, real metalheads combat whiny-ness in manly ways. Take a look at the first Opeth line-up. They all realized Mikael Akerfeldt was one of those “lost in revery” types, quit his crappy allegedly “death metal” band and made the mediocre 1991 death/doom demo band Crowley. They had manly Nihilist riffs and sounded like angry alcoholics. Way cooler than Coldplay playing a Meshuggah-fied riff stolen from Morbid Angel’s Domination at random intervals between the hammond organ interludes and the singer-songwriter Jewel worship lameness. Hell, many demo bands had the metal spirit in them, even if their music was a third rate ripoff. Nowadays, with Hypocrisy Abducted and Amorphis Elegy inspiring legions of kids who a decade ago would have worn Earth Crisis hoodies… People are putting their “Alanis Morrisette” depression into the “Glen Benton” METAL. This study, with it’s Rage Against the Machine fail, could just as well have been about Nine Inch Nails or Him “goth” fans. Grrrr….

    1. Metal Command

      Bolt Thrower are dark. Wimp-metal is depressed. I think the “metalheads” they talk to in this study are all 16-18 and diggin’ the SOAD, Deftones, Rammstein, maybe newer Metallica, that kind of thing. Of course they’re depressed… they’re listening to shit!

  • Glistening in Masculinity

    My testosterone output decreased upon seeing this clown’s picture on this article.

  • Jim Nelson

    What is the cause and what is the effect? I will never consider psychiatry science. I will never consider anything that has any element of self-reporting to be science. People trying to interpret and articulate their feelings is gay, not scientific.

  • Metal Command

    I might be anxious and depressed if I were a dreadlocked metal hipster like the lost soul in that photo. I bet he’s cut the hair and is “really totally into” reggae now.