How Drum Circles Can Improve, if Not Cure, Your Depression

Don’t make the mistake of thinking treatment needs to come only in a pill bottle

Posted Sep 09, 2016

ID 26059368 © Beachboyx10 | Dreamstime.com
Source: ID 26059368 © Beachboyx10 | Dreamstime.com

Have you ever wondered how people used to treat depression before prescription medications were invented? Even today many developing countries do not have the medical infrastructure or cultural norms in place to connect depressed individuals with medically indicated anti-depressant medications. Although historical interpretations of and treatments for depression vary widely from culture to culture, one common antidote may surprise you: communal drumming.

Some benefits to making and dancing to music in a circle with your friends, family and other community members are intuitive. Dancing is a physical activity that can create positive effects similar to other forms of aerobic exercise, like releasing endorphins that elevate mood and act as natural analgesics. A communal drum circle also describes a kind of low-risk social event, like attending a party of people known to you or joining a non-competitive sporting event, that people generally enjoy as rewarding and personally affirmative, without being too emotionally demanding.

The effects of communal drumming can extend even further than we realize. A recent study conducted by researchers in the United Kingdom ought to put to rest what, if any, objective benefits communal drumming specifically could offer people struggling with depression. Somewhat surprisingly, the researchers found that those who engaged in drumming fared better than the control group that attended social events without dancing or music-making elements. Drumming had a positive impact on mood.

Researchers also found that the physical activity characteristic in group drumming circles had an effect on individual’s immune responses. The study participants who engaged in group drumming experienced a corresponding improvement in their immune system’s functioning. In short, not only did group drummers end up feeling better, but making music and communal dancing also made them less likely to get sick.

The positive effects of communal drumming extend beyond even our most integral internal systems. When viewed holistically, communal drumming creates a physical and emotional experience of belonging that addresses one of the core psychological components of depression: feelings of isolation, alienation, invisibility and worthlessness. Communal drumming offers an opportunity for individuals to wordlessly come back into the fold of the community and physically realize their contributions to the group.

Any activity that occurs regularly, according to a schedule, can also add the benefit of bringing structure and an experience to look forward to that so many experiencing depression struggle to find. If you’re having trouble getting out of bed, a completely clear social calendar isn’t going to motivate you to get up and out into the world. Even something as a small as a weekly religious service, class, or exercise or artistic group – like communal drumming – can make the difference between staying in bed all day or taking care of yourself.

If you or someone you know is battling depression, don’t make the mistake of thinking treatment needs to come only in a pill bottle. Connection, no matter how difficult it may feel to do, is necessary. The answer to your troubles may be waiting for you in the middle of a vibrant community drumming circle. What do you have to lose by trying?