"We can now be more confident that music therapy in fact improves patients' symptoms and functioning," Christian Gold of Uni Research Health in Bergen, Norway, told Reuters December 13. "This finding holds across a variety of settings, countries, types of patients and types of music therapy."
A review of 421 patients participating in the study felt better when music therapy was combined with their treatment regimen versus when music therapy was excluded.
Laypeople and researchers have often intuited that music can help people with depression, but the empirical literature has not been decisively clear in showing this, Gold said. For instance, a 2011 study found that music therapy helped treat depression, but it was conducted in only one country.
"We still think that more research is needed, however," Gold said. "We feel that research on music therapy for depression can now turn to more specific questions, such as comparing different types of therapy to each other."
The review did not find a significant difference in outcomes for people who engaged in passive music therapy — simply listening to music — versus active therapy — singing, composing or playing an instrument.
A 2010 study, published in the journal The Arts of Psychotherapy by researchers at the University of Oaxaca in Mexico, determined that listening to classical music offered "a simple and elegant way to treat anhedonia, the loss of pleasure in daily activities."
Depression impacts more than 300 million people worldwide, according to World Health Organization data. Almost 800,000 people die from suicide each year, and suicide is the second leading cause of death among individuals aged 15 to 29, according the WHO.
A WHO study published in March found that just 3 percent of government health budgets globally are devoted to mental health initiatives.