Singing in groups may bring greater happiness to people with mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression, according to a new study from the University of East Anglia (UEA) in the United Kingdom.
Researchers found that people who participated in a community singing group improved or at least maintained their mental health. The findings also show that the combination of singing and socializing was a major factor in recovery as it gave participants a feeling of belonging and well-being.
Lead researcher Professor Tom Shakespeare from UEA’s Norwich Medical School and his researcher Dr. Alice Whieldon worked in collaboration with the Sing Your Heart Out (SYHO) project, based in Norfolk.
SYHO offers weekly singing workshops, aimed at people with mental health conditions as well as the general public. It originally began at Hellesdon psychiatric hospital in 2005, but later moved into the community. Around 120 people now attend four free workshops each week across Norfolk, two-thirds of whom have had contact with mental health services.
The researchers followed the group for six months and put together interviews and focus groups with participants, organizers, and workshop leaders.
“We found that singing as part of a group contributes to people’s recovery from mental health problems,” said Shakespeare. “The main way that Sing Your Heart Out differs from a choir is that anyone can join in regardless of ability. There’s also very little pressure because the participants are not rehearsing towards a performance. It’s very inclusive and it’s just for fun.
“The format is also different to a therapy group because there’s no pressure for anyone to discuss their condition. We heard the participants calling the initiative a ‘life saver’ and that it ‘saved their sanity.’ Others said they simply wouldn’t be here without it, they wouldn’t have managed — so we quickly began to see the massive impact it was having,” he said.
Shakespeare added that all of the interviewed participants reported positive effects on their mental health as a direct result of participating in the singing workshops. For some it represented one component of a wider program of support, and for others it stood out as key to their recovery or maintenance of health, he said.
“But the key thing for everyone was that the Sing Your Heart Out model induced fun and happiness.”
The findings, published in the BMJ journal Medical Humanities, show how a combination of singing and social engagement can give participants a feeling of belonging and well-being, as well as improved social skills and confidence.
The program also provided structure, support and contact to help people improve their mood, feel good, and function better in day-to-day life.
“The Sing Your Heart Out model offers a low-commitment, low-cost tool for mental health recovery within the community,” said Shakespeare.
Source: University of East Anglia