Depression is a highly prevalent mood disorder that is characterised by persistent low mood, diminished interest, and loss of pleasure. Music therapy may be helpful in modulating moods and emotions. An update of the 2008 Cochrane review was needed to improve knowledge on effects of music therapy for depression.
1. To assess effects of music therapy for depression in people of any age compared with treatment as usual (TAU) and psychological, pharmacological, and/or other therapies.
2. To compare effects of different forms of music therapy for people of any age with a diagnosis of depression.
We searched the following databases: the Cochrane Common Mental Disorders Controlled Trials Register (CCMD‐CTR; from inception to 6 May 2016); the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL; to 17 June 2016); Thomson Reuters/Web of Science (to 21 June 2016); Ebsco/PsycInfo, the Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL), Embase, and PubMed (to 5 July 2016); the World Health Organization International Clinical Trials Registry Platform (WHO ICTRP), ClinicalTrials.gov, the National Guideline Clearing House, and OpenGrey (to 6 September 2016); and the Digital Access to Research Theses (DART)‐Europe E‐theses Portal, Open Access Theses and Dissertations, and ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Database (to 7 September 2016). We checked reference lists of retrieved articles and relevant systematic reviews and contacted trialists and subject experts for additional information when needed. We updated this search in August 2017 and placed potentially relevant studies in the "Awaiting classification" section; we will incorporate these into the next version of this review as appropriate.
All randomised controlled trials (RCTs) and controlled clinical trials (CCTs) comparing music therapy versus treatment as usual (TAU), psychological therapies, pharmacological therapies, other therapies, or different forms of music therapy for reducing depression.
Data collection and analysis
Two review authors independently selected studies, assessed risk of bias, and extracted data from all included studies. We calculated standardised mean difference (SMD) for continuous data and odds ratio (OR) for dichotomous data with 95% confidence intervals (CIs). We assessed heterogeneity using the I2 statistic.
We included in this review nine studies involving a total of 421 participants, 411 of whom were included in the meta‐analysis examining short‐term effects of music therapy for depression. Concerning primary outcomes, we found moderate‐quality evidence of large effects favouring music therapy and TAU over TAU alone for both clinician‐rated depressive symptoms (SMD ‐0.98, 95% CI ‐1.69 to ‐0.27, 3 RCTs, 1 CCT, n = 219) and patient‐reported depressive symptoms (SMD ‐0.85, 95% CI ‐1.37 to ‐0.34, 3 RCTs, 1 CCT, n = 142). Music therapy was not associated with more or fewer adverse events than TAU. Regarding secondary outcomes, music therapy plus TAU was superior to TAU alone for anxiety and functioning. Music therapy and TAU was not more effective than TAU alone for improved quality of life (SMD 0.32, 95% CI ‐0.17 to 0.80, P = 0.20, n = 67, low‐quality evidence). We found no significant discrepancies in the numbers of participants who left the study early (OR 0.49, 95% CI 0.14 to 1.70, P = 0.26, 5 RCTs, 1 CCT, n = 293, moderate‐quality evidence). Findings of the present meta‐analysis indicate that music therapy added to TAU provides short‐term beneficial effects for people with depression if compared to TAU alone. Additionally, we are uncertain about the effects of music therapy versus psychological therapies on clinician‐rated depression (SMD ‐0.78, 95% CI ‐2.36 to 0.81, 1 RCT, n = 11, very low‐quality evidence), patient‐reported depressive symptoms (SMD ‐1.28, 95% CI ‐3.75 to 1.02, 4 RCTs, n = 131, low‐quality evidence), quality of life (SMD ‐1.31, 95% CI ‐ 0.36 to 2.99, 1 RCT, n = 11, very low‐quality evidence), and leaving the study early (OR 0.17, 95% CI 0.02 to 1.49, 4 RCTs, n = 157, moderate‐quality evidence). We found no eligible evidence addressing adverse events, functioning, and anxiety. We do not know whether one form of music therapy is better than another for clinician‐rated depressive symptoms (SMD ‐0.52, 95% CI ‐1.87 to 0.83, 1 RCT, n = 9, very low‐quality evidence), patient‐reported depressive symptoms (SMD ‐0.01, 95% CI ‐1.33 to 1.30, 1 RCT, n = 9, very low‐quality evidence), quality of life (SMD ‐0.24, 95% CI ‐1.57 to 1.08, 1 RCT, n = 9, very low‐quality evidence), or leaving the study early (OR 0.27, 95% CI 0.01 to 8.46, 1 RCT, n = 10). We found no eligible evidence addressing adverse events, functioning, or anxiety.
Findings of the present meta‐analysis indicate that music therapy provides short‐term beneficial effects for people with depression. Music therapy added to treatment as usual (TAU) seems to improve depressive symptoms compared with TAU alone. Additionally, music therapy plus TAU is not associated with more or fewer adverse events than TAU alone. Music therapy also shows efficacy in decreasing anxiety levels and improving functioning of depressed individuals.
Future trials based on adequate design and larger samples of children and adolescents are needed to consolidate our findings. Researchers should consider investigating mechanisms of music therapy for depression. It is important to clearly describe music therapy, TAU, the comparator condition, and the profession of the person who delivers the intervention, for reproducibility and comparison purposes.
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