From Karaoke To Carols: How Group Singing Can Boost Mental Health

Group singing could help give your mental health a much-needed boost this winter.

A study by University of East Anglia researchers found singing, particularly as part of a group, to be “essential in effecting [mental health] recovery”.

They interviewed people involved with the Sing Your Heart Out (SYHO) project, a Norfolk-based network of community singing workshops aimed at people with mental health conditions and the general public.

“The combination of singing and social engagement produced an ongoing feeling of belonging and wellbeing,” researchers said. “Attendance provided them [participants] with structure, support and contact that improved functioning and mood.”

Group singing has been recommended by the researchers as a “low-commitment, low-cost tool for mental health recovery within the community”.

The study’s findings drew on 20 interviews with participants, two focus groups with organisers and workshop leaders, and observational notes on singers over a six-month period.

Interviewees all reported improvement in or maintenance of their mental health and wellbeing as a direct result of engagement in the singing workshops.

For most it was a key component, and for some the only and sufficient component, in their recovery and ongoing psychological stability. 

The combination of singing with a social aspect was regarded as essential in aiding recovery. Participants also said the lack of pressure to discuss their condition and the absence of explicit therapy was important.

SYHO was regarded by participants as different from choirs, other social groups and therapy groups (music or otherwise).

It’s not the first time group singing has been associated with improved mental health. A study by Canterbury Christ Church University revealed that group singing improved people’s mental health and wellbeing, including reducing anxiety, stress and depression.

One participant involved in the study said: “I have really enjoyed the singing group. I feel happier and less lonely on the walk home. I find myself singing some of the tunes which stick in my head.

“I am a very anxious and nervous person. I’m hoping the group continues to lift my mood and I feel confident enough to continue attending.”

Group singing could also help tackle loneliness, which “can be as damaging to health as not exercising”University of Oxford researchers published a study in 2015 showing that group singing helped people to forge social bonds very quickly.

“This is particularly valuable in today’s often alienating world, where many of our social interactions are conducted remotely via Facebook and Twitter,” said Jacques Launay, postdoctoral researcher in Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford.