Globally, there are a host of challenges that face public health, not least increasing demands on mental health services and ageing populations. New models for preventing and treating illness, as well as maintaining optimal levels of population wellbeing, are therefore under constant development. Music, as a readily available and cost effective psychosocial intervention, is emerging as a promising tool in healthcare, but the field requires evidence of exactly how and why music can impact on health and wellbeing.
The CPS employs a wide range of scientific approaches and techniques to examine the short- and long-term impacts of engaging with music. Responding to the complexity of health behaviours and attitudes, we examine psychological responses to music such as changes in health attitudes and behaviours, biological responses focusing on stress responses and immune function, as well as lived experiences of music and health. Drawing on the extensive musical expertise at the Royal College of Music, the CPS is uniquely positioned to demonstrate the totality of music’s impact on health and wellbeing.
Our research to date clearly evidences music’s potential to facilitate psychological change, establishing for instance that creative engagement in older adulthood enhances wellbeing and health promoting behaviours, that group drumming reduces depression and anxiety in mental health service users through providing a creative and mutual learning space, and that singing reduces negative affect and increases positive affect in cancer patients and carers. Further, analysis of saliva samples has demonstrated that just one session of group drumming can boost immune activity and that a 10-week programme can lead to a decrease in inflammation, which has been shown to enhance recovery from depression. Indeed, evidence suggests that attending even one choral concert as an audience member can significantly reduce stress hormones.
This research underpins arts and health initiatives currently running in the UK, Europe, and beyond, with populations including older adults, women with postnatal depression, and cancer patients and their carers. Our research has led to ongoing drumming provision for mental health service users and their carers at Richmond Adult Community College in London and has formed the basis for drumming and singing groups currently on offer to older adults in both Switzerland and Japan. Drumming for mental health has also been selected by Breathe Arts Health Research – a spin out social enterprise of of Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity who create arts interventions and make them commissionable by the NHS – to be developed into a new service delivered in Lambeth and Southwark. The CPS’s close strategic partnerships with key health organisations ensure that our research findings continue to make maximum impact, as well as directly affecting an expanding pool of beneficiaries.