Since September 2009, this innovative community music project has involved over 100 people with a history of serious and enduring mental health issues in regular singing activity to promote wellbeing and health. Mental health is a substantial feature of health inequalities in the UK. Substantial stigma is still associated with mental ill-health, which often leads to social isolation and social exclusion, loss of education and employment opportunities, and poorer physical health. People affected by enduring mental health issues can be poorly served by existing health services and new ways are needed to help people affected by mental health issues to engage with activities in their communities in the interests of promoting recovery and social inclusion.
The East Kent ‘Singing for Health’ Network is a partnership project between NHS Eastern and Coastal Kent PCT, voluntary organisations in East Kent that support people with enduring mental health issues, and the Sidney De Haan Research Centre for Arts and Health. East Kent health professionals in health promotion and occupational therapy have actively supported this project, and a key role has been played by ‘The Mustard Seed Singers’ a singing group established in Canterbury in 2007 by a musician and mental health service user.
The project has established a network of seven small community choirs in towns across East Kent, lead by specially trained facilitators using carefully designed exercises and a common repertoire. This coordination has allowed the choirs to come together to form a large chorus for two major public performances in theatres in East Kent.
A careful evaluation undertaken by the De Haan Centre has gathered data using standardised health and wellbeing questionnaires (the Clinical Outcomes in Routine Evaluation questionnaire – CORE, and the EQ-5D questionnaire widely used in health economic evaluations). Findings from the evaluation have shown statistically significant improvements on these instruments, suggesting that regular group singing promotes wellbeing. These quantitative findings are amply supported by personal testimonies from participants, which highlight benefits for dealing with depression and social isolation, as well as promoting confidence, self-esteem, achievement and a sense of purpose in life. The findings from this project indicate that such music-based initiatives should be more widely available. Not only can they help address continuing health inequalities, but may lead to substantial cost-savings to the National Health Service.
For more information about the work of the Sidney De Haan Research Centre visit:
For BBC features on the Mustard Seed Singers, see:
Singing for Health on YouTube