Prof. Stephen Lawrie
Head of the Division of Psychiatry, University of Edinburgh
Of course, those of you enjoy singing aren’t gonna be persuaded to do it or not by what I say, but actually there is a bit more evidence for the mental health benefits of singing, and especially choral singing, than you might expect – and certainly more than I expected.
So, the first thing I did was to Google it – mental health and singing – and the first hit hit that caught my eye was an article in the Telegraph of all places (in 2013) about a survey of almost 200 people in the Uk showing that people who did choral singing got more benefits than those who sang alone (not just in the bath I think) and even than team sports.
There are also surveys showing reductions in distress in adolescents by about 60% over a year, an article in TIME magazine and even an NHS choices web-site with a woman describing how choral singing helped her driving phobia.
Encouraged, I did a formal check in the main academic database called PubMed. A grand total of 57 articles ever written is very few, going back to an article in Spanish about the psychoanalytical meaning of singing during a consultation, but – remarkably – there was a systematic review published in 2008 about self help treatments for depression and singing cropped up as something of interest that might work very quickly.
There is even a Randomized Controlled Trial! Of 258 older adults (>60) in Kent who had better quality of life at 3 months – compared to just doing usual activities.
As to how it might work, this is a very speculative area, but choral singing may increases CBF, oxytocin, endorphins, and reduce stress. Psychologically, the effects might be mediated through group shared activity (see synchronised heart beats study).
Now, clinical scientists like me will always caution against uncritical acceptance of the results of one or two studies – but the rest can carry on singing with gusto; and some of you might even be persuaded to do choral singing – or to do it more – by the evidence base!