A new study published in the July issue of Psychology of Music suggests that joining a choir improves the quality of life for people dealing with chronic mental illness. The study found that people with mental health problems who engage in a regular meaningful group activity (in this case, choir rehearsals) also find it easier to start conversations and build social connections with others.
Genevieve A. Dingle explained to PsyPost, “over time, they built confidence and some choir members mentioned making social contacts and meeting up outside of choir rehearsal times. There was evidence of the choir experience becoming a scaffold on which further social connections could be built, such as volunteer work, and social invitations to birthday parties, and other social events.”
Dingle’s study investigated adults who joined a choir for the mentally ill and socially disadvantaged over the course of a year. The rehearsals elicited positive feelings and a sense of well being for the participants, as well as overall reduced stress and numerous positive outcomes.
The findings of the study lean heavily on a body of research known as social identity theory which suggests that belonging to social groups is closely linked to a person’s self identity and well-being. Dingle and her colleagues believe social identity theory and mental health are also closely linked.
“In my opinion, we have underestimated the importance of social connectedness in mental health problems,” Dingle said. “Social connections are often difficult to make and to maintain for people who experience chronic mental health problems (such as paranoia, social phobia, depression, or even developmental disorders). Because these individuals typically are not participating in social and occupational roles on a regular basis, they are at risk of becoming very socially isolated.”
While the study focused on a secular choir group, the meaningful nature of church choirs and the strong community you will find within the church suggest the same phenomena may occur in religious choirs. They offer all of the benefits of being a member of a church community while also creating a sense of purpose and belonging and ultimately creating a closer relationship with God.