Music is an incredible force of nature. It has the power to relieve us of stress, boost our mood, and calm us down when we need it most. Furthermore, it is the backbone of an effective form of therapy: simply called music therapy. Music therapy is an established health profession, which uses music to address a variety of needs an individual may have, whether they be physical, emotional, social, or cognitive. It has proven to help reduce the effects of dementia, soothe nervous hospital patients, and improve communicative abilities in autistic children.
This form of therapy can help a multitude of clients overcome their issues—as can simply listening to music or performing musical abilities, such as singing. In fact, recent research explores just how beneficial singing can be, particularly with other people. A new study “Sing Your Heart Out: community singing as part of mental health recovery” from the University of East Anglia says that singing in groups can increase happiness and improve overall wellbeing. More specifically, researchers found that individuals who participated in a community singing group either improved or at least maintained their mental health. Furthermore, they found that the joint efforts of socializing and singing were essential to recovery for those with depression and anxiety, as it fostered feelings of belonging.
To reach these findings, lead researcher Professor Tom Shakespeare from UEA’s Norwich Medical School and fellow researcher Dr. Alice Whieldon joined and evaluated the Sing Your Heart Out (SYHO) project—an initiative in Norfolk, Va. This initiative holds weekly singing workshops, which are designed to help those with mental illnesses as well as the general public. The project was initially implemented in Hellesdon psychiatric hospital 12 years ago, but has since been installed in the community. Now, roughly 120 people attend four free singing workshops each week.
The research team shadowed the group for six months, during which they conducted at least 20 interviews with participants and two focus groups with workshop leaders and organizers. All of the interviewees reported improvement or maintenance of their mental health and wellbeing, as a direct result of participating in the singing workshops; for a majority of those interviewed it was a key component, but for others it was the only sufficient component in their recovery and stability.
Though SYHO shares similarities with choirs and other singing groups, its significant differences are what make it so effective in maintaining and improving mental health. Professor Shakespeare explained the specifics: “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 form is also different to a therapy group because there’s no pressure for anyone to discuss their condition.”
As mentioned previously, the key to the observed benefits is the combination of singing and socializing—it proved crucial to helping those with mental illnesses recover. Furthermore, the intervention produced feelings of belonging and overall wellbeing in all participants. “All of the participants reported positive effects on their mental health as a direct result of taking part in the singing workshops,” Professor Shakespeare explained. Some participants even called the singing group initiative a “life saver,” according to Professor Shakespeare. “Others said they simply wouldn’t be here without it; they wouldn’t have managed.”
University of East Anglia (2017, December 21). How Singing Your Heart Out Could Make You Happier. NeuroscienceNews. Retrieved December 21, 2017 from http://neurosciencenews.com/happiness-singing-8224/
Shakespeare, T., & Whieldon, A. (2017, November 25). Sing Your Heart Out: community singing as part of mental health recovery. Medical Humanities. Retrieved on December 22, 2017 from http://mh.bmj.com/content/early/2017/11/25/medhum-2017-011195