INsite reader Joe Rodrigues, who is in his late nineties, recently made a submission to the Government’s Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction, reminding them of the inestimable value that comes from singing.

“Besides making people happy, there are many more health benefits that come from singing, which are well documented, especially in groups,” he says.

He points to Britain during World War II as an example.

“The morale of the nation was greatly enhanced by such BBC radio programmes as Music While You Work and the huge efforts of the entertainment industry, led by such well-known singers as Gracie Fields and Vera Lynn.”

Rodrigues says that the benefits of singing are still enjoyed in New Zealand today, but are limited to certain settings, like aged residential care.

Certainly, Oceania’s Lady Allum Village were rewarded for their efforts in reuniting their residents with music from years gone by in an ‘I Love Music’ programme, taking home the supreme award at last year’s New Zealand Aged Care Association awards.

However, Rodrigues thinks there is scope to extend singing and music to other areas of the community.

“It would be economic and very worthwhile if these benefits could be made more readily available to all sectors of our communities,” he says.

“Such a move could help to combat the present situation in our society, where people are using drugs and alcohol to obtain relief from the ever increasing stresses of modern life.”

There is research to support the benefits of singing on mental health.

Research from the University of East Anglia’s Norwich Medical School found that singing was beneficial to mood and social skills and helped those who had had serious mental health issues to function better in day-to-day life.

The researchers studied the effects that singing as part of a group had on participants of the ‘Sing Your Heart Out (SYHO)’ project, which started in in 2005 at a psychiatric hospital in Norwich, before branching out into the community. The SYHO initiative is aimed at people with mental health conditions as well as the general public, and regularly attracts hundreds of people to four weekly sing-alongs.

The researchers urged other areas to consider running community singing groups.

Lead researcher Prof Tom Shakespeare said it was “a low-commitment, low-cost tool for mental health recovery within the community” because it gave participants a feeling of belonging and wellbeing.

Certainly, groups like Auckland-based Young@Heart Chorus hit the mark for older singers like Jill Robinson.

“I’ve always loved music and singing,” she says, “but it gets harder to find people who want to sing along with you at this age. My sister and I found out about New Zealand Young@Heart and along we went. It’s perfect for us.”

However, perhaps there is a need for a SYHO initiative to launch in New Zealand, where the term “choir” has been intentionally avoided so that it doesn’t scare people off.

“Anyone can make a noise. No one is ever rejected in these groups,” says Shakespeare, “There’s also very little pressure because the participants are not rehearsing towards a performance.”

This approach means that singing is very inclusive, relaxed and fun – and, in contrast to music therapy, there is no pressure for anyone to discuss their condition.

Meanwhile music therapy also has its place with research confirming its effectiveness on many groups, including older adults with cognitive issues.

Psychology Today says that for older adults with Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other mental disorders, music therapy has been found to reduce aggressive or agitated behavior, reduce symptoms of dementia, improve mood, and improve cooperation with daily tasks, such as bathing. Music therapy may also decrease the risk of heart or brain diseases in elderly dementia patients.

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