Study: heavy metal makes you suicidal, after all

In 1990, Judas Priest was sued for allegedly inspiring the suicides of two teen fans. They were cleared of all charges. Was the judge wrong? Photo by Flickr user Fernando Catalina Landa.

By now, the old moral panic over heavy metal and suicidal behavior is so old-hat that it’s almost laughable, right? Bands like Judas Priest and Ozzy Osbourne were taken to court over allegations that their music had inspired suicide attempts among fans, but the judges in those cases found them innocent of all charges. Heavy-metal researchers like Jeffrey Jensen Arnett have gone deep into the subculture to find out why some kids love metal so much — and found that the music provides solace for all kinds of listeners. Sure, depression, suicide, and dark music sometimes go hand in hand, but it’s usually the depression that came first.

Not so fast, according to University of Melbourne researcher Katrina McFerran. She has just published a new study claiming heavy metal causes depression and suicidal feelings in listeners. (Editor’s note: the link to the news item about the study lists it as number 666! Coincidence?) Since the actual study appears to be unavailable, we’re going to just have to go on what it says in the press release:

“The mp3 revolution means that young people are accessing music more than ever before and it’s not uncommon for some to listen to music for seven or eight hours a day,” she said.

“Most young people listen to a range of music in positive ways; to block out crowds, to lift their mood or to give them energy when exercising, but young people at risk of depression are more likely to be listening to music, particularly heavy metal music, in a negative way.

“Examples of this are when someone listens to the same song or album of heavy metal music over and over again and doesn’t listen to anything else. They do this to isolate themselves or escape from reality.

“If this behavior continues over a period of time then it might indicate that this young person is suffering from depression or anxiety, and at worst, might suggest suicidal tendencies.”

Whenever I like a song — whether it’s a heavy metal song or not — I do tend to listen to it a lot. I think this is pretty normal among people who passionate about music (as opposed to folks who simply have a passing interest in it). I clearly remember listening to Duran Duran’s “Save A Prayer” and Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” on endless loop. And, yes, I’ve done this with plenty of heavy-metal songs, too. It wasn’t to block anything out. It was because the song touched me.

Now, McFerran may have a point. Some kids who are already depressed may also listen to the same piece of music over and over, to find comfort in it. But she suggests that this behavior on its own is worrisome and might mean a kid is at risk of suicide. There are already well established warning signs of teen suicide, and “listening to heavy metal on endless loop” isn’t one of them. Generally, people listen to music to make them feel better. Even if it doesn’t seem on the surface that they feel better, it’s keeping them from feeling worse, and that’s an important distinction.

What I’m getting at is: there may be a correlation between depression, suicidal feelings, and love of heavy metal (although fans of any kind of music are certainly susceptible), but that correlation doesn’t suggest that heavy metal is causing those feelings — or that it’s making them worse. But McFerran is suggesting it does, and that’s like suggesting Bic Macs cause bank robberies simply because some bank robbers have eaten them every day for several weeks. (If anything could be said for such eating habits, you could say it causes you to make documentaries. Right?)

At any rate, I suspect McFerran is seeing things a bit backwards — and putting out information that might frighten, rather than assist, parents.


6 responses to “Study: heavy metal makes you suicidal, after all

  1. Funny, I felt suicidal BEFORE I found heavy metal music. Now I feel empowered. What a crock. I’m 50 and I STILL listen to heavy metal music. It helped power me through the 80’s and the angst of not being “popular” in my teens. Not to be too much of a smart aleck, but what really makes me want to kill myself is: the type of lyrics that are either SO juvenile they are nauseating; music that seems to have no point, it’s just repetitive nonsense chords over and over with no feeling attached to it; lyrics that seem to push people to perform crimes against each other not fight back against the crimes of society as a totality against its individual participants.

    Heavy metal is music with powerful emotion behind it. If you can’t handle those kinds of emotions to begin with, listening to the music isn’t going to make it any worse. More likely the bubbly-happy-crap will put you over the edge because it will make you feel like you are out of step with the rest of the world, alone, misunderstood, a misfit.

    Turning on the news, THAT makes me feel suicidal. Seriously. I watch the way people treat each other and how institutions we “trusted” took us all for the sake of big bucks and a private condo in Hawaii for their executives and I just want to end it all.

    Music, of all kinds, is an OUTLET for what people are already feeling. Sure, it can enhance a mood, but the mood is already there. Music, of all kinds, can also bring a twisted mood back into focus by distracting the emotions and focusing them elsewhere. I really wish that somebody or some group would stop trying to find a scapegoat for personal responsibility.

  2. To those who believe the study:
    um, how about BITE ME! Y’all got it wrong. Actually, it has been proven that Country music listeners are more likely to commit suicide than Heavy Metal listeners. Where country music has you wallowing in your own self pity, thereby making you feel worse, Heavy Metal is the outward expression of the mind’s wanderings and wish to punish those who make our lives difficult. To quote my aunt, “The music just conveys your feelings out of your body and into your local airspace.” I couldn’t have said it better myself! Listen to sad music/lyrics, you will be sad. Listen to upbeat, uplifting music/lyrics, you will be upbeat, uplifting. It is as simple as that. I stopped listening to country when I realized I had a bottle of pills in my hand…then away from that place I moved and started over in a new school! Life can be good, we just have to choose to change it and follow through! Point being that I was choosing not to listen to music that amplified that particular negativity and to avoid reaching that space again, in case you missed the inference.

    so get it right people or STFU!!

  3. Hmm, your headline seems to be written to continue the myth that heavy metal can cause suicide, yet you don’t seem to believe it yourself. So why write the headline?
    Also, McFerran does NOT make the claims you say she does. Can I recommend you read Dr. her response to the heavy metal community regarding her study?:

  4. What does it mean that I once listened to “All the SIngle Ladies” at least 50 times in a row? o_O

  5. Metal is a way to bring peace when you feel like cracking someones skull open taking a knife and shoving into their heart. If you are going to write about metal talk to metal heads not people who study them.

  6. Oh…. My……. JESUS

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s