How heavy metal and head banging can help your mental health

If listening to heavy metal provokes disturbed behaviour and angry outbursts, then Liam Frost-Camilleri could be considered a maniac.

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Video: Metal bands go Beyond Black in Ballarat for Beyond Blue (ABC News)

He’s been listening to metal legends like Machine Head and Dark Tranquillity since he was teenager.

“Heavy metal has always been underground and that’s the point of heavy metal; it is an offshoot subculture different than the norm and against authority,” Mr Frost-Camilleri said.

“If it wasn’t shunned a little bit, it might not be what it is.”

While he teaches literacy and numeracy skills by day, by night Mr Frost-Camilleri is the organiser of ‘Beyond Black’ — a charity gig that saw 15 metal bands play in Ballarat on Friday and Saturday, raising $3,500 for Beyond Blue.

Metal as an emotional catharsis

While playing shows with his band, Fall and Resist, Liam said the topics of depression and anxiety would come up in conversations with fans and fellow musicians.

“I was amazed at how often once one person started talking about it, another person would start talking about it,” he said.

“It seemed to be a pretty big problem amongst musicians in particular, in the heavy metal genre.”

Mr Frost-Camilleri said metal could offer an escape and a way to process negative emotions.

“I think the reason why people with anxiety and depression tend to gravitate towards heavy metal is because of the catharsis of the emotion,” he said.

“It’s more about exorcising demons and less about suggesting what you should be doing.”

While not all metal fans have mental health issues, Mr Frost-Camilleri said the community around the often misunderstood genre of music, could offer support during tough times.

“Sometimes the aggression is dialled up, sometimes the sadness is dialled up but they’re the two extreme emotions and I think people who are suffering with depression and anxiety understand what is meant by that,” he said.

“They listen to it because they go ‘Jeez, I wonder what he was feeling when he wrote that?’ or ‘Wow, he really gets me’.”

‘Metal does not cause mental health problems’

A 2015 study conducted by Leah Sharman and Dr Genevieve Dingle from the University of Queensland’s School of Psychology found that ‘extreme music’ may actually “represent a healthy way of processing anger”.

Thirty-nine ‘extreme music listeners’ between the age of 18 to 34 were asked about a recent event that made them angry before researchers continually prompted them with more questions to further provoke an angry state.

Half of the group then listened to music of their choice for 10 minutes, which included bands like Parkway Drive, Slipknot and Rage against the Machine, while the other half sat in silence.

“We were looking to test the hypothesis that metal and other extreme forms of music make angry people more angry or agro and aggressive, which is a fairly popular notion in the media and in various parent groups,” Dr Dingle said.

“That hypothesis was not supported so people’s heart rate didn’t keep increasing with the metal music; it actually just plateaued after the anger induction and also self-ratings of anger, hostility, irritability came back down in a similar way if they were just sitting in silence.”

“The people listening to their own metal music felt much more inspired, much more active, so the positive emotions went right up.”

Other studies support Ms Sharman’s and Dr Dingle’s findings.

Metal harbours community, friendship

A study published in the Journal of Community Psychology in January 2018 concluded that “metal identities were helping participants to survive the stress of challenging environments and build strong and sustained identities and communities, thus alleviating any potential mental health issues”.

Researchers Paula Rowe and Bernard Guerin from the University of South Australia held repeated and informal talks with 28 people aged between 18 and 24, who identified with metal music.

Common themes noted among the group included being bullied and marginalised at school, enjoyment of metal while being ostracised, and using metal to “keep bullies at bay” and find friendship groups.

“Despite experiences of intense family situations, ostracism, bullying and loneliness, these participants all got through this period of life with little or no explicit mental health issues,” the study stated.

“So, far from metal music and identity causing them mental health issues, as popular opinion would have, most survived the challenges they encountered in their young lives by utilizing metal.”

Dr Dingle said she hoped her study and others like it would change public perceptions of heavy metal culture.

“It helps to bust the myth that there’s something inherently negative or harmful or delinquent about listening to metal music,” Dr Dingle said.

“It’s not causing mental health problems.”

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