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 and the arts. Responding to the complexity of health behaviours and attitudes, we examine psychological responses to music such as changes in states or symptoms, biological responses focusing on physiological changes, lived experiences and perceptions of music and health, and epidemiological links between arts engagement and health.
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 as well as supporting recovery from postnatal depression. 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. At a public health level, our latest findings suggest that frequent cultural engagement in older age is associated with lower incidence of depression over 10 years.
This research underpins arts and health initiatives currently running in the UK and Europe. Our work on the role of group singing to support recovery from postnatal depression has been selected by Breathe Arts Health Research – a spin out social enterprise 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.