Mixtapes, Masterpieces and…Mental Health? 

From drum circles to dubstep, music has a foothold in nearly every culture on earth, going back thousands of years. Babies react to music in the womb and special songs are often played on our deathbeds. It’s no surprise, then, that our mental health can be so attuned to the playlists of our lives. 


Have you ever listened to a song that instantly brightened your mood? Or found just the right one to match your feelings when you’re down? According to WellPower’s service success manager and board-certified music therapist, Bobbi Halfhill, MT-BC, music has a unique way of speaking to our souls. 

“I genuinely believe that music is the glue for our well-being,” said Halfhill. “It bridges our moods, it connects us across oceans and cultures – it’s a language all its own. We can use music to communicate emotion, whether through lyrics, tempo or melody, and it can build community like nothing else I’ve ever seen.  

“It impacts our mental health, too, because it unifies the human experience,” she continued. It is so validating to know that there’s a song out there for whatever you’re feeling. It means that someone, somewhere, sometime also felt the same way – and that means you’re not alone in your mental health experiences. It can get you through hard times, and it can lift you up higher in great times.” 

For people who may struggle with voicing their feelings out loud, sharing music is often the way to communicate their emotions. Sending someone a song, album or playlist that’s meaningful to you is a way to share a part of yourself with others. 


Why do we feel a certain way when we hear specific music? Much like certain smells triggering memories, music can have the same effect – sometimes even stronger. 

“Music hits us all uniquely and differently, and it’s so dependent on our personal experiences related to when we heard specific songs,” said Halfhill. “Music can bring up a flood of memories and emotions because of the connections we make with songs when we’re exposed to them.” 

Music can also say things that we don’t have the words for or can’t speak out loud. It can motivate us (looking at you, “Eye of the Tiger”), calm us, brighten our days or even bring us down. Bad moods or experiences can be exacerbated by music, just like good feelings can. 

The question about why music makes us feel has been the subject of countless studies, dating back to Pythagoras in ancient Greece. In a 2022 article from the British Psychological Society, author Zoe Nendick says, “Over the last 70 years or so, there has been growing academic interest in the relationship between music and emotion – one of the most significant earlier works being Leonard Meyer’s book, Emotion and Meaning in Music (1956). Meyer proposed that we feel emotions in response to the harmonic progressions of the music, and to the extent each note or chord fulfils our expectations.” 

Playlists (or mixtapes, whichever you prefer) 

When Bobbi worked as a music therapist in a hospital, her favorite question to ask hospice patients was, “What was the soundtrack to your marriage?” The responses she received bridged generations. 

“I would hear some of the usual answers for their generation – John Denver, the Bee Gees, ABBA – but I’d also hear people say, ‘We loved the seventh track on this specific album,’” she said. “It was remarkable to me, because music is what brought people back to a place of peace and happiness in painful times, just remembering that seventh song from their favorite album. Getting to play those songs and seeing the emotions play out on their faces filled a place in my soul that nothing else can touch.” 

Throughout history, as genres of music have grown, technology has advanced and the ability to share tracks has infinitely expanded, the one thing that hasn’t changed is that music impacts our moods. 

“Music is ritual. It’s culture. It’s memory,” said Halfhill. “It doesn’t have to make sense, it doesn’t have to follow specific logic. We can’t tell what music means to someone or what they like just by looking at them, and by finding out their favorite artists and genres, we can learn more about who they are at their core. 

“I believe that music is such a big piece of who we are. I wish it was integrated into every aspect of health care. It’s more than a hobby – it’s a way to connect and build rapport with people, and it can be used as an amazing tool. Music is a language all its own.”