Maudsley Hospital

Time to Sing – how using singing and social interaction can challenge stigma and promote wellbeing in socially excluded groups.

In early February, student nurses from the Florence Nightingale Faculty of Nursing & Midwifery attended a Time to Talk Day run by the mental health charity Time to Change. This inspired them to think about different ways to promote wellbeing and challenge stigma, and it resulted in the creation of ‘Time to Sing’.

I decided to join with friends from the Mind & Soul Choir and host a ‘Time to Sing’ celebratory workshop. This brought together 60 members of the Mind & Soul Choir, along with the Micro Rainbow International Choir and Student Nurses, for a meal and music workshop. The aim of the day was to have fun, meet new people, challenge the stigma associated with different socially excluded groups, and to sing. It also provided me with the challenge of cooking lunch for 60 people.

The Mind & Soul choir is based at the Maudsley Hospital and anyone can join – there is a mix of service users, staff, carers and friends who regularly sing together. One of the participants on the day wrote, “There is no stigma in a choir – the only label we wear is soprano or bass”, and, while the tenors and altos might feel offended, this was a sentiment echoed by many participants who left comments on the feedback posters provided:

“It’s great to sing with people from so many different backgrounds. The different songs from different eras and cultures was a great mix. Thanks to all for organising.”

 “WOW – fellowship, friendship, singing, fun.”

Members of the Micro Rainbow International (MRI) Choir also joined the event. MRI addresses the specific situation of poverty of LGBTI people worldwide by devising tools and actions that can enable them to step out of deprivation. In the UK, MRI’s focus is on the situation of poverty of LGBTI refugees.

They address the isolation and sense of helplessness that many LGBTI refugees experience by building new friendships and creating closer communities.

 “Lovely to sing with a mixed group . . . meet new people. Great for the soul. Thank you.”

”Wow. Wow. Wow. Wow. Wow! – Kate Bush and Tom Jones. I’m brim full of GRATITUDE to all the folk who made “Sing for Joy” such an uplifting, joyful day.”

I felt that the day’s aim of having fun was met. The day gave people a chance to eat together, sing and dance, and this impacted on people’s moods and feelings of isolation.  I am very grateful to the wonderful musical director and animateur, Lea Cornthwaite, who facilitated the event.  Here are some comments from those who were there:

“I’m so glad I came. It’s really cheered me up now.”

“A lovely day – takes my mind off problems. Fun! Fun! Fun!”

 “Lovely to be able to socialise with new people at the breaks, since I live alone and could be lonely.”

“First time I’ve sung in a choir for 30 years. I’ve had so much fun. Everyone is so friendly. I instantly felt at home. Thank you for an awesome day.”

 “It was great. Everyone was so welcoming, with lots of interesting stories to tell. The singing was incredible. I was a bit unsure to start with but my worries soon vanished, it was just so easy to join in the fun. No matter your ‘baggage’ the music really brought us together to create something beautiful”

Aura, Bsc Mental Health Nursing

 “I really love the instant unity from singing in a choir, I find socialising in large groups difficult but the choir was a great way for me to feel cohesion with a group without feeling the pressure to interact. It’s a great way to co-exist and share an experience!”

Eve, PG Dip Mental Health Nursing

 One participant went further to specify that for them, singing underpinned their motivation for everything else:                               

“Singing should be at the foundation of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.”

In their 2008 report Stigma Shout, Time for Change state that stigma and discrimination:

  • Prevent people seeking help
  • Delay treatment
  • Impair recovery
  • Isolate people
  • Exclude people from day to day activities
  • Stop people getting jobs

It might seem like an enormous list to tackle, and whilst groups like Time to Change, Rethink and Mind are doing a fantastic job in mainstream and social media, as well as through lobbying and research, we can all contribute through the power of contact.  Social contact theory is seen as one of the core requirements to change stigma (Like Minds Like Mine 2005). The type of contact matters, as some professionals that have lots of contact with marginalised groups may continue to hold discriminatory attitudes. Contact can be the most effective strategy, if the contact has the following conditions:

  • Equal status
  • The opportunity for individuals to get to know each other
  • Information which challenges negative stereotypes
  • Active co-operation
  • Pursuit of a mutual goal

The workshop proved a simple and enjoyable example of equal and active contact to challenge stigma and promote wellbeing.

On a personal note, it was a privilege to be a small part of such a warm and welcoming group and event. In the first warm-up song, I was moved to tears by the joy of the beautiful sound we were making together within moments of meeting each other. Many thanks to all involved.

Ian Noonan

Department of Mental Health Nursing

Florence Nightingale Faculty of Nursing & Midwifery

King’s College London

For more information on Mental Health Nursing, click here.

For more information on PGDip Mental Health Nursing, click here.