Art helps the mind as well as soul

Published: 26 October 2012 at 13:43

Anglia Ruskin study shows drawing and painting can help beat depression

Researchers at Anglia Ruskin University and the South Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust (SEPT) have found that drawing and painting can have a positive effect on people’s mental well-being.

The results of the study, published in the latest edition of Perspectives in Public Health, show that 88% of participants reported an improvement in their levels of motivation and 81% reported gaining confidence after taking part in an art course.

Open Arts, which has been running in south Essex since 2008, aims to promote well-being and social inclusion for people with mental health needs, including anxiety, depression and schizophrenia.  Participants can be referred by a mental health worker or they can self-refer, as the project is advertised publicly as well as through mental health services.

The sessions, which run one day a week for 12 weeks, are facilitated by professional artists with relevant mental health and group work experience.  The Open Arts scheme has proved incredibly popular and by April 2011 a total of 108 people were on the waiting list for an introductory course in four Essex towns (Grays, Brentwood, Basildon and Southend).

People on the waiting list who had been allocated a place formed an intervention group; those remaining on the waiting list were asked to complete the same measures over the same time period and formed a control group.  Participants in the intervention group were asked to rate the service and were offered the opportunity to join a focus group.

The researchers from Anglia Ruskin and SEPT used 32 people on the waiting list as their control group, while 26 taking part in the course were included in the intervention group.  Participants were evaluated using the Warwick Edinburgh Mental Well-being Scale (WEMWBS) and the Social Inclusion Scale (SIS).

In addition to the 88% improvement in motivation and 81% increase in confidence, the study also found that most felt more positive after taking part (73%) and that their relationships with other people had improved (89%).

Nineteen participants in the control group went on to complete an Open Arts course later in the year and similar improvements between baseline and follow-up scores on the WEMWBS and SIS were found in this group.

Anglia Ruskin’s Dr Kerrie Margrove said:

“Mental ill health is a significant public health problem in the UK, with costly consequences in terms of the distress for those who experience mental health problems and their families, as well as considerable financial costs to the NHS and society more generally.  These costs are compounded by the high levels of social exclusion experienced by people with mental health problems.
“This evaluation of Open Arts has provided preliminary evidence that participatory arts groups are likely to have benefits for mental health service users in terms of improved well-being and social inclusion.
“External funding has now been sought to expand this research with feasibility testing of a randomised controlled trial, which would help to determine whether Open Arts has benefits for service users over the long term, and whether arts courses can offer value for money for the NHS.”