The health benefits of singing, especially in a group, are study-proven. But being a member can still be difficult for those who grapple with mental health issues.
For decades, researchers have been exploring the many ways in which singing -- especially as part of an ensemble -- is good for our health. There are releases of endorphins and oxytocin; positive effects on heart rate; reported immune boosts; and the potential to improve sleep, just to name a few perks.
Of course, singers don’t need to be told that -- we feel it firsthand. Every time we step onstage to perform, or offstage to celebrate, or whenever we gather to make music with people we love, we experience what those experts are chronicling.
But what about those who want to take part, but are concerned about how being involved might impact their mental health?
After all, it’s a widespread issue. About 44.7 million American adults ages 18 and older are affected, with younger people and people of color disproportionately so. And 75 percent of mental health conditions take root before age 24, which makes this matter as pressing for scholastic groups to consider as it is for adult ones.
And these issues can manifest in myriad ways. For example, the community aspect of being in a group can be perilous for those who have social anxiety disorders, which involves "intense anxiety or fear of being judged, negatively evaluated, or rejected in a social or performance situation." The responsibilities of group membership can also be daunting to those who have depression, often evinced by fatigue or a decline in previously held interests during an episode. Those are just two examples -- as everyone’s experience is different, there are certainly many more.
I understand this personally. I’ve been aware of my anxiety for years on some level, but have only been addressing it head-on in the last year. In hindsight, I can certainly see moments in which anxiety impacted and influenced my role as a group member, or musical director, or even friend to fellow singers. It’s exhausting, and for some, a deal-breaker in terms of signing on.
As I am neither an expert nor a professional, I will not offer advice on how to navigate this individually as a person who struggles with their mental health. But what I can do is assure you that you’re not alone, and that your concerns and feelings are in no way trivial. I can also say from experience that designing a schedule -- indeed, a life -- that serves you and your needs first and foremost is well worth the time, effort and sacrifice, whatever that looks like.
As for groups who wish to be more inclusive on this front, there are resources to look into online. The National Alliance on Mental Illness, for example, has an article that describes what safe spaces are -- free of any current political connotations -- which could help you in making your group environment safer. And Disability Rights California offers a guide that addresses stigmas and sheds light on terminology to avoid using in conversation, in service of creating a more inclusive environment.
Individually, we must do what is healthiest for us, and what best meets our needs. But collectively, there are ways to be intentionally thoughtful of group and community members who, despite struggling in this regard, still want to make music and spend time with other musicians. Endeavoring to create an environment that’s welcoming and friendly, and that fosters understanding and openness, is a great step for all of us to take.