A 16-month study of participatory community singing among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander choirs throughout Queensland has shown significant improvements in mental health.

Loneliness and social isolation eased as a result of community singing, while one participant described how the project enabled her to grieve for the loss of her sister. Another participant lost 33kg after she got involved in the project.

Research studies show that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have a much greater burden of mental illness and chronic disease than other Australians.

“There is a gap in services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people suffering from mental illness and social isolation,” Dr Jing Sun (pictured) from Griffith University’s School of Public Health said.

The benefits of community singing also included the development of intrapersonal and interpersonal skills through new friendships, gains in confidence and improved social wellbeing.

Most participants including people with diabetes, asthma, bronchitis and blood pressure concerns reported notable improvements to their mental and physical health. Two-thirds of participants said singing helped to put worries out of their minds, while 77 per cent said it helped give them a positive attitude to life.

“Being involved with the choirs can also improve their access to and use of Aboriginal community controlled health services.

“Community choirs represent a culturally appropriate means of improving their mental health, emotional wellbeing and social inclusion.”

The preliminary findings of the Griffith University research project also show a 20 per cent decrease in smoking among participants, while more than 80 per cent of 270 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participants said singing really helped their general wellbeing.

Six communities in Southeast Queensland are taking part in the project, including Gold Coast, Toowoomba, Dalby, Ipswich, Warwick and Brisbane. A further three communities from Cairns, Mackay and Hope Vale in northern Queensland are involved.

“We had a mixture of urban, rural and remote Aboriginal communities,” said Dr Sun who led a team of Griffith University researchers.

“We also found that people involved in community choirs used less medication after singing activities compared to previously.”

Following clear improvements in the mental health and social and emotional wellbeing of participants, the research showed a clear association between group singing and improved practices in prevention and management of chronic diseases.

The prevalence of risk factors associated with chronic disease, including mental illness, rated at 89 per cent among participants at the outset.

The project is jointly funded by Griffith University and the Queensland Aboriginal and Islander Health Council, Wochopperen Health Services, Apunipima Cape York Health Council and Aboriginal and Islanders Community Health Services Mackay Ltd.

Other community controlled health services including Kambu Medical Service Centre Pty Ltd, Kalwun Health Service, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Health Service Brisbane Ltd, Goolburri Health Advancement Corporation, Goondir Health Services, and Warwick Community Group, contributed through in-kind support by providing staff to manage the project at community level.