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18 January 2021

Study examines the impact of singing on symptoms of postnatal depression

King’s College London and UCL are leading the world’s largest study into the effect of group singing on the mental health of new mothers and their babies.

A room with mothers and their babies singing together
Breathe Arts Health Research Melodies for Mums Image by Leigha Fearon

Supported by a £2m award from the Wellcome Trust, King’s College London will be working with Breathe Arts Health Research on their pioneering Melodies for Mums programme, to bring together new mothers experiencing anxiety, low mood or other symptoms of postnatal depression (PND), in a series of online singing groups starting in February. Community-led singing for new mums has already been shown to reduce the symptoms of PND faster than the usual care or social groups. It is hoped that the programme will provide further evidence of the intervention’s efficacy and build a case for commissioning music therapy as a standard NHS treatment for PND.

The study is timely: In a world shaped by Covid-19, many new mothers will be feeling even more isolated than usual and with the pandemic weighing heavily on our collective mental health, the need for such interventions has never felt more pressing.

This online singing for postnatal depression study is part of a wider piece of research into the impact of and scalability of arts interventions on physical and mental health. The SHAPER (Scaling-up Health-Arts Programmes: Implementation and Effectiveness Research) programme is led by Professor Carmine Pariante, Professor of Biological Psychiatry at King’s College London and Dr Daisy Fancourt, Associate Professor of Psychobiology & Epidemiology at UCL.

There is growing research on the impact of the arts on health. But more work is needed to take programmes from successful local projects with short-term funding to national programmes commissioned by the health sector.

Professor Carmine Pariante, Professor of Biological Psychiatry at King’s College London

Breathe Arts Health Research launched Melodies for Mums in 2017, basing the model for their service on a 2016 study carried out by the Royal College of Music and Imperial College, which demonstrated that singing sessions were more effective at reducing symptoms of PND than standard interventions.

The research showed that such an intervention can lead to a 41% reduction in symptoms of PND and a recovery in 73% of mothers who took part.

Tim Osborn, Melodies for Mums Project Manager

The study also identified singing sessions as a powerful way of engaging with mothers from minority backgrounds, who were less likely to seek support for their postnatal mental health needs.

Over the last three years, Melodies for Mums has helped hundreds of women across London, and the new research led by King's will support the case for making this invaluable service available to women nationwide.

Our long-term hope is that we can roll this out as a national programme that would be commissioned by the NHS as a new clinical service, so it’s not just seen as a nice, arty project that some mums might do, but as something underpinned by research showing it’s a very effective clinical treatment. That could mean some women with PND wouldn’t need to use other NHS services, saving it money in the long term.

Yvonne Farquharson, Managing Director at Breathe Arts Health Research

The new study led by King’s College London, beginning in February will be carried out online throughout 2021 and will be focused on approximately eight groups of 10 – 12 women. Participants will have had their baby within the last nine months and be experiencing stress, anxiety, low mood, depression, or be at risk or have been diagnosed with PND. These new mothers will participate in group online singing sessions with a trained music facilitator, clinical screening with a clinician and some additional follow up work. 

Call for volunteers

A person playing the ukulele and a mother and her baby listening.
A person playing the ukulele and a mother and her baby listening.

King’s College London are urgently looking for volunteers to participate in this vital research. The study is currently focused on London but is not restricted to this. New mothers wishing to participate should register here or contact All information will be gathered anonymously. 

For more information visit