Researchers at IIIT Hyderabad link music with mental health

mental health, musicology, music, IIITH, Vinoo Alluri
The anthem One Nation One Voice, recorded in 14 different languages, will be dedicated to the nation by Lata Mangeshkar on behalf of Indian Singers Rights Association on May 3. Photo: iStock

Mental health conditions in India have a stigma attached to it and the current ways in which they are assessed are intrusive. Questions like ‘In the past two weeks, did you have thoughts that you would be better off dead, or of hurting yourself in some way?’ have often come up that, in an indirect and unsuspecting manner, point towards conditions like depression and anxiety.

To assess such mental health conditions, the researchers at the International Institute of Information Technology, Hyderabad (IIITH), have now developed a model that uses music engagement as an indication of mental well-being.

The Healthy-Unhealthy Music scale (HUMS), an assessment tool developed on Australian population and assessed on the basis of the Kessler’s Psychological Distress Scale (K10), has been applied in the Indian setting.


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Speaking to The Federal, Vinoo Alluri, an assistant professor at the IIITH who was part of the study along with her students, says, “It is not about what music one listens to but about how and why they listen to music. Music can be a great coping mechanism and it plays different roles.”

A 2015 study in Finland on Australian population of 300 adolescents — a combination of clinically depressed and normal students — assessed their mental well-being using a set of 13 questions that were a combination of healthy and unhealthy associations with music. Healthy associations were ascertained by questions like ‘I feel happier after playing or listening to music’ and unhealthy associations with questions like ‘I Hide in my music because nobody understands me, and it blocks people out’. The questions came with several options for answering — often, rarely, never and always.

“The unhealthy associations talk about being in a state of mind which is not good in the long run. Those who score high on the unhealthy associations are marked high on the distress scale,” adds Alluri.

She says that in the Indian setup, as many as 300 respondents were chosen from the young student population who were below 24 years age and working in the Information Technology industry. “Given our lifestyles in India, we don’t even know if one has leisure to associate to music. However, here we found a pattern similar to that of the study in Finland. If you are undergoing distress, depression and anxiety, you rely on music in a similar manner,” Alluri adds.

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The model helped them ascertain the respondents’ mental well-being with an accuracy of 81 per cent. The paper titled ‘Mining Mental States using Music Associations’ was accepted recently for the Speech, Music, and Mind with Audio Satellite Workshop held at Inter Speech 2019, in September in Austria.

The researchers are now assessing the data of 600 willing participants, who are last.FM (a music streaming platform) users, Alluri says. “Now we are trying to understand what sort of patterns (either textual, acoustic, or habitual) exist in a more realistic music listening setting which may be indicative of poor mental health in addition to uncovering the potential modulatory role of personality,” she adds.

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