In a whitewashed studio in northern Denmark, 11 unemployed strangers are embarking on a hearty rendition of Yellow Submarine. Jonas Thrysøe is not one of them. At least, not yet. The 36-year-old has agoraphobia, rarely leaves the house and can’t think of anything worse than a group singalong. And yet by the second chorus he is putty in the choirmaster’s hands. “I swore I’d just stand at the back and listen,” he says. “But the mood was infectious.”

Out of work and in his second year of sick leave because of anxiety and panic attacks, Thrysøe had become isolated. “I’d avoid situations where I thought I’d get anxious, until I ended up avoiding all situations. It was a vicious circle,” he says. With a master’s degree in European studies, Thrysøe had dreamed of a career in Brussels or the Danish government. “But things got so bad I couldn’t even leave the house. It was … a kick in the groin,” he says.

Then the Kulturvitaminer (culture vitamins) programme came along, offering Thrysøe and other unemployed people in Aalborg with stress, anxiety or depression the chance to go on a crash culture course. Partly funded by the Danish health authority, and administered by the local jobcentre, the municipalities of Aalborg, Silkeborg, Nyborg and Vordingborg set up pilot schemes to encourage cultural participation for those unemployed or on state sick leave.

The project in Aalborg has been prepared by the Health and Culture Administration and is anchored in the Center for Mental Health. The project ran over ten weeks with two to three weekly meeting times with a duration of between two to three hours, giving participants to take part in singing groups, guided joint reading activities, and other cultural activities that can improve the mental health of the participants.

The initiative continues up to this day, offering both adults and young people mental support through cultural prescriptions.

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