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Researchers at the University of East Anglia in the UK have found that people with mental health issues enjoy higher levels of well-being if they’re involved in singing groups. The university, which is located in Norwich, followed an initiative that was launched in 2005 called Sing Your Heart Out. The programme was initially launched in a psychiatric hospital but was later rolled out to the wider community.

The study looked at 20 group members over a period of six months and concluded that people with mental health issues functioned better when they participated in social singing. Speaking to the BBC, the study’s lead researcher, Professor Tom Shakespeare described the initiative as “low cost and low commitment,” in relationship to the benefits that the participants enjoyed. 

The organisers avoided using the word choir in the name of the group, as they didn’t want to intimidate people who may have thought they don’t sing well enough. Shakespeare believes that this approach created an atmosphere that allowed the singers to relax and enjoy the experience, without feeling pressure. The professor also highlighted how the exercise differed from traditional music therapy, where patients are encouraged to discuss their condition.

One participant was Penny Holden. The 67-year-old has suffered from bipolar disorder  her entire life and told the BBC that the group had caused a significant improvement in her mental well-being. “It’s the best thing I’ve ever done. It’s such a nurturing environment, where we look out for each other and help each other,” she said. “I found it difficult to relate to people and trust them when I first went along, but I knew I wanted to do something to get involved in life again.”

Professor Shakespeare also referred to the physical benefits of being part of the groups, saying that the breathing patterns involved in singing can be good for the body.