Art is a perfect way to express yourself, whether that’s through, painting, drama, singing or dancing, it is often therapeutic and can have increasingly positive effects on our mental wellbeing, studies suggest.
At the University of Gloucestershire, researchers have found that nearly 1,300 primary care patients in South East England have had significant improvement on their mental health from taking a course of arts-on-prescription. These finding have been published in European Journal of Public Health.
Arts-on-prescription schemes provide art courses where patients can choose to learn how to draw, paint, create mosaics or playwright; this is unlike art therapy although participants find it therapeutic. Usually, the courses are led by local artists, and are community-based rather than being based on specific medical needs. The arts and minds arts and mental health charity support these findings with a survey of participants before and after taking part in their 2014/15 programme which found that 73% reported an increase in well-being, 73% reported a decrease in depression, 71% reported a decrease in anxiety and 69% reported an increase in social inclusion. Well received by patients, health professionals, and arts providers alike, the benefits of art for health schemes have long been recognised as valuable.
The evidence was evaluated from patients referred for arts activities through Artlift, a charity based in South West England that provides courses with local artists across the region. Through using the largest database available of patients referred through such schemes they have found that patients experience quantifiable improvements in overall wellbeing from participants in these arts courses.
The famous artist Edvard Munch, much like many of us, used art as a coping strategy for his difficulties in life. After a difficult childhood, Munch began using his inner turmoil to create art saying, “in my art I attempt to explain life and it’s meaning to myself.” Many of his work includes intense psychological themes such as The Scream. He suffered from deep depression during his lifetime, and his art often reflected events that happened to him. After having a complete nervous breakdown, he was hospitalized for eight months, and after this period of rest his art became more optimistic, allowing him to finally break New York. In his later life, he mainly lived in solitude and enjoyed drawing simpler works about rural life, perhaps showing that his art had finally given him peace.
Similarly, Paul Kolker, a cardiovascular surgeon, shares his experience with visual art and how his experiences with art impacts his medical training and career, his interactions with his cardiac patients and his own healing journey as a patient. He notes that early on, he found that interpreting the artwork exhibited in the halls of medical school required the same empirical and intuitive skill sets used by doctors in examining and diagnosing their patients. Now he asks, why not immerse medical students in an ocean of the arts, in addition to the sciences, to hone their skills? He also describes how artistic expression is intrinsically a process of sharing emotions and this same process helped him relate more empathetic with his patients. He summoned the artist in him to become a more caring surgeon.
Carol Hammal talks about her personal experience with art therapy and the massive impact it has on her life and her community. Just like her life had been forever changed, she was hoping she could do the same for her community and help others just like her.
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Article written by: Carmen Plevin, Studying Art, Psychology and Sociology A Level at Grammar School and Sixth Form centre whilst on work experience at the Guernsey Arts Commission