Vol. 11, No. 14 July 23 - August 12, 1998


Another Problem With Noise: It's Depressing


QUESTION: Is there a connection between noise and depression?
-Suleica Culleton

ANSWER: A Congressional committee reported: "Individuals who are subjected to high noise levels for extended periods, or who cannot rest or sleep in residential circumstances quieter than their work places, appear to run a risk of psychological distress."

So imagine the mental condition of those many of us who day after day return to an apartment that howls and pounds with a neighbor's music or trembles and groans from the escapades of the kids overhead. After the pressures at work, plus the ordeal of the subway, and the hassles of the streets, most of us desire only one thing at the end of the day: to go home and rest. Yet this very simple ambition - in essence, a fundamental human need and right - is an impossible dream.

The recording for the National Foundation for Depressive Illness (1-800-348-4344) lists seven signs of depression: (1) exaggerated feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or anxiety; (2) decreased interest in activities, people and things around you, and increasing inability to enjoy yourself; (3) difficulty with concentration, slowed thinking or indecisiveness; (4) decreased or increased sleeping and appetite; (5) recurring feelings of worthlessness; (6) loss of energy and motivation; and (7) recurrent thoughts about death or suicide.

Several or all of these symptoms are prevalent among sufferers of regular exposure at home to excessive noise from a neighbor or other external source. Those of us in this predicament usually can't afford to move, and even when we can we're often no better off. So, we're trapped physically. And we're trapped mentally and spiritually, as we grieve every waking minute: "Why me, God, why me? I work for a living, pay my taxes, treat everyone with respect. I don't rob or steal. I'm a good person. What have I done to deserve this? All I want is peace!"

Our spirits keep sinking until they hit rock bottom, and pretty much remain there. What else can be expected of someone who rarely enjoys that daily minimum of tranquility that is the mother of peace of mind?

Overexposure to loud or unwanted sounds precipitates and exacerbates depression. A recent edition of Awake! magazine featured several articles on stress, one of which linked it to depression. This association is noteworthy because it's precisely the stressfulness of noise that makes it a portal for depression. Unsurprisingly, most of the ailments that Awake! traced to stress have also been identified with excessive noise and therefore abound among individuals with noise-induced depression: asthma, back, neck, and shoulder pain, colds gastrointestinal problems, headaches, heart problems, insomnia, peptic ulcers, and sexual dysfunction.

When the noise in question is a neighbor's blasting music, invariably the bass is so powerful that, besides coursing through walls and floors, it invades and stresses bodies. People's anger and frustration with the noisemaker's audacity as well as their own powerlessness to protect the sanctity of their home - and body - generates further stress. If persistent, this strain devastates physical and emotional immunity, leaving certain individuals in spirits so low as to be potentially fatal. Thus, in the United Kingdom, a growing rash of suicides and homicides in response to noise has been documented. In the United States, although no figures are available for noise-precipitated suicides, there have been a number of news and police reports of murders and violent assaults by individuals who just couldn't take the noise any more.

All of which is why that Congressional committee issued a warning, which, for the common good, must be taken seriously: "Many individuals in this Nation, already affected by health problems such as high blood pressure and emotional illness, are especially susceptible and need protection from the added stress of noise."

Recent Sound Advice Columns include:

John Dallas is founder of the Bronx Campaign for Peace and Quiet. You can write to him in care of: Norwood News, 75 E. 208th St., Bronx, NY 10467.

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