"Artistic expression" helpful for mental health

Published: 29 July 2008 at 13:38

Research published on mental health, social inclusion and arts.

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A research team, led by Jenny Secker, Professor of Mental Health at Anglia Ruskin University and the South Essex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, has published a report on mental health, social inclusion and the arts. Collaborating with the project were senior researchers from University of Central Lancashire (UCLan).  The findings from the report were made public at a launch based at the Tate Modern in London.

The study focused on the impact of participating in arts projects for people aged 16 to 65 with mental health needs. Clear improvements were shown in participants’ mental health, social inclusion and particularly in their level of empowerment. Further work revealed eight processes that were important in achieving these benefits, depending on participant’s individual context:

Getting motivated inspired hope and reduced inactivity, and so improved mental health/wellbeing and decreased mental distress

Focusing on art provided relaxation and distraction, which again resulted in improved mental health/wellbeing and decreased mental distress

Connecting with others in a supportive environment decreased social isolation and increased confidence to relate to others, thus combating social exclusion.

Self expression promoted catharsis and self acceptance, and provided alternative ways of coping – benefits that decreased mental distress and reduced social exclusion 

Connecting with abilities gave a sense of pride and achievement, which improved mental health/well being

Having time out helped alleviate worries and responsibilities, thus decreasing mental distress.

Rebuilding identities was associated with increased self belief, external validation and moving beyond a service user identity, thus combating social exclusion

Expanding horizons led to wider aspirations and opportunities and to enhanced self esteem, resulting in reduced social exclusion and improved mental health/wellbeing.

Speaking about those included in the research, Jenny Secker said:

“Participants ranged from people experiencing anxiety and depression who were receiving only primary care services to people with serious and enduring problems who had been long term users of secondary mental health services.”

“The projects were equally broad in scope, ranging from short term courses in basic art skills to projects offering opportunities for ongoing development through provision of studio space and support, or a rolling programme of differing opportunities. The art forms varied from visual arts to creative writing, decorative design, handicrafts and performance arts.”

“Our main conclusion from the research was that our results justify funding for arts in mental health work.”

The full report from the research is available at www.socialinclusion.org.uk