Cutting-edge arts research wins public health award

Published: 4 September 2009 at 13:42

Expert confirms that artistic expression is helpful for mental health

A research team, led by Jenny Secker, Professor of Mental Health at Anglia Ruskin University and the South Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust, has won an Arts and Health Award from the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) in association with Canterbury Christ Church University.

The awards, to mark significant contributions to research and practice in the field of Arts and Health, are in their second year.  Last year the focus was on Music and Health.

The winning research, Mental Health, Social Inclusion and the Arts: Developing the Evidence-base, was a collaborative project involving senior researchers from University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) and people with experience of using mental health service. The project was nominated for the award for its ‘original and substantial contribution to the field of arts and mental health.'

Speaking about the news, Professor Jenny Secker said:

"I’m delighted with the recognition this award brings for our research. By the end of our study I was left in no doubt that arts participation can really benefit people with mental health needs. I hope the RSPH award will help to spread that message to arts and mental health funding bodies."

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.

The work revealed that eight processes were important in achieving these benefits.

Getting motivated inspired hope and reduced inactivity, and so improved mental health/wellbeing and decreased mental distress, while 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 change and self acceptance, and provided alternative ways of coping – benefits that decreased mental distress and reduced social exclusion, while 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, and Expanding horizons led to wider aspirations and opportunities and to enhanced self esteem, resulting in reduced social exclusion and improved mental health/wellbeing.

Describing 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 is basic art skills to projects offering opportunities for ongoing development through provision of studio space and support. The art forms varied from visual arts to creative writing, decorative craft and design, 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

More detailed reports from the study are available from Jenny Secker at Anglia Ruskin University’s, Faculty of Health & Social Care. Call 0845 271 3333 or visit

The awards for research and practice will be presented on 15th September.

Also in line for an award is Andy Watson, Artistic Director of Geese Theatre Company who says

"To receive public recognition in the form of this award is of major significance to an organisation like Geese Theatre Company. Our projects with offenders invariably take place in environments such as secure hospitals and prisons and are inevitably "hidden" from public view".

Geese Theatre Company is a team of actors and group workers who present interactive theatre and facilitate drama-based workshops, staff training and consultation for the probation service, prisons and young offender institutions. The company is widely recognised for its innovative work with offenders and since 1987 has worked in over 150 custodial institutions, in 42 probation areas and with more than 130,000 offenders and 40,000 individuals. The company believes that drama is a powerful and effective educational tool in working with offenders and young people at risk.