Blues therapy: Study finds singing with others boosts happiness, well-being

NORWICH, England — Feeling blue to start the new year, but you’d rather not turn to antidepressants for help? Join a local choir. A new study finds that being part of a singing group can improve mental health and make you happier.

Researchers at the University of East Anglia followed the Sing Your Heart Out project in England, a local singing clinic of sorts that runs four free workshops each week, targeting people with mental health conditions. The project initially launched out of a psychiatric hospital in 2005, but since moved into the community so that other residents interested in joining could take part too.

A new study finds that regularly singing with others decreases symptoms of anxiety and depression and improves a person’s well-being and mood.

At the time of the study, about two-thirds of the 120 workshop participants had been treated by mental health experts in the past.

The researchers monitored the participants’ mental health through interviews and focus groups over a period of six months, and found that individuals saw symptoms of anxiety and depression decrease. Both the singing and the socializing that went along with the regular meet-ups gave the participants a sense of belonging and naturally stimulated their overall well-being.

In fact, the study’s results showed that stimulation lasted at least a day after each workshop for individuals, and even improved their sociability and confidence.

“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,” says lead researcher Professor Tom Shakespeare in a university news release. “We found that singing as part of a group contributes to people’s recovery from mental health problems.”

Shakespeare says one of the reasons the group thrives is because singing ability makes no difference — members aren’t rehearsing for high-pressure performances. Instead the project is simply for fun and participants don’t necessarily have to discuss their struggles as they might in a more traditional group therapy program.

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

The researchers say that the structured format of the workshops and ability to regularly receive support by socializing with others allowed the members to function better in their day-to-day lives, which provided a more positive outlook and boosted happiness. They recommend the Sing Your Heart Out model for other communities as a low-cost way to help in mental health recovery — or for those who simply enjoy singing along with others.

The study’s results were published in the Nov. 2017 edition of the BMJ journal Medical Humanities.


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