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Could singing with others improve your mental health?

Could singing with a group improve your mental health? This was the focus of an interesting intervention that was recently evaluated and published in the journal, Medical humanities.

According to the authors of the study, singing with others may mental health by promoting a sense of belonging and well-being.

Although, the researchers started with looking at the impact of group signing on persons with anxiety and depression, they later extended this to the genera general population.

Surprisingly, they found that when  people gather together to sing ‘just for fun’ it boosts their mental health.

The research titled  ‘Sing Your Heart Out: community singing as part of mental health recovery’ was published in the BMJ journal Medical Humanities.

Researchers examined the benefits of singing among people with mental health conditions including anxiety and depression.

They found that people who took part in a community singing group maintained or improved their mental health. And that the combination of singing and socialising was an essential part of recovery because it promoted an ongoing feeling of belonging and wellbeing.

Lead researcher Prof 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.

The grassroots initiative runs 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 afterwards 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 research project followed the group for six months and undertook interviews and focus groups with participants, organisers, and workshop leaders.

Prof Shakespeare said: “We found that singing as part of a group contributes to people’s recovery from mental health problems.

“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.

“All of the participants we spoke to reported positive effects on their mental health as a direct result of taking part in the singing workshops.

“For some it represented one component of a wider programme of support. For others it stood out as key to their recovery or maintenance of health.

“But the key thing for everyone was that the Sing Your Heart Out model induced fun and happiness.”

The report shows how a combination of singing and social engagement gave participants a feeling of belonging and wellbeing that often lasted a day or more, as well as improved social skills and confidence.

Taking part on a weekly basis provided structure, support and contact that helped 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,” added Prof Shakespeare.

Although,  the feel-good effects of singing are well known, scientist are beginning to consider making it a ‘prescription’ on account of its positive impact on a range of physical and psychological conditions. Could this become another potentially important lifestyle change you need to make?

In another related study comparing singing, alone, team sports and choral singing, guess which was considered most effective in boosting mental health? You are right-Choral singing. Why could this be effective? No one really knows. Some have speculated that “it could be that singing in a group gives us something that we have lost as a society.”

Nevertheless, this cost effective form of mental health intervention may easily be adopted by developing countries where access to mental health treatment is really limited.  This could easily be implemented as a family, during events, social gatherings or within the community. Can you be part of a singing group? You do not require any music skills to participate.   All you need is good music and a positive attitude.

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