On:song at Minds@Work

On 17th October on:song co-founders George and Greg were invited to speak at the Minds@Work conference on the 41st floor of the HSBC building in Canary Wharf. Our brief was to present on the benefits of singing for mental health, and then to lead the delegation in song. At on:song our mission is to improve mental health and wellbeing in the workplace through singing, so we jumped at the opportunity to share our thoughts and experiences.

Minds@work organise events which bring together a community of like-minded professionals aiming to break the stigma of depression and anxiety. Since launching 5 years ago they have been influential in the growing movement, bringing hope to individuals that it’s possible to recover and thrive from a mental health illness like depression and anxiety, whilst sharing best practice around how to break the stigma of mental health in the workplace. A focus of their work is to inspire organisations to take the mental health and wellbeing of their employees more seriously, and equip organisations tools ideas and initiatives that will enable them to effectively carry this out.

The view from floor 41

The view from floor 41

The evening was opened by our host Antonio Simoes Chief Executive Officer (designate), Global Private Banking at HSBC, who discussed the surprising statistic from their own in-house research at HSBC that 54% of their 250,000 employees have admitted to struggling with mental health issues associated with work. Antonio talked of how HSBC recognised the enormous responsibility that they had to their employees, and that they take these responsibilities very seriously.

Also on the program was George Bell from Sanctus (seriously, another George Bell) discussing their long-term mission to have a mental health gym on every high street, David Tinker on using avatars to help increase wellness, and Sarah Stevenson from the environment agency, who have won Gold in Mind’s Workplace Wellness index two years running.

For our talk, we began by exploring the history of music through human development, and then instances throughout history where music and singing have played important roles, such as the birth of modern music therapy in the second world war. We then delved into the psychological and physiological benefits of singing, before moving onto the cohesive ways in which music brings individuals together, increasing trust, socialisation and bonding.

In the spirit of firmly practising what we preach, Greg then took to the stage and, in 10 minutes, had everyone singing in beautiful harmony. At 8.30 on a Wednesday, when most of the audience were not expecting to sing and were looking forward to the drinks and nibbles this was no easy task. Starting off with simple noise making, before moving on to a brief introduction to audiating, or hearing ‘in the mind's ear’, a key part of the on:song method. In unison, we then sang the first half of the chorus of the Bill Wither’s classic ‘Lean on me,’ to which we then added a harmony part to round things off, with a wonderfully harmonious outcome!

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The evening finished with a panel discussion, a chance for the audience to ask some questions and to expand on some of the ideas presented. The focus of the questions mainly centred around the scope and scale of the initiatives that are currently out there. Whilst the work of those on the panel was demonstrating a particularly successful leap forward in the awareness of the mental health issues, it was still only a relative drop in the ocean compared to where we need to get to. Geoff McDonald, panel chair and founder of Minds@Work pointed out that although there is huge amount of bureaucracy around safety at work, there is nothing in place whatsoever around the duty of care to look after mental health of employees.

George Bell (of on:song) second from left

George Bell (of on:song) second from left


George Bell