We look after our bodies, why do we neglect our minds?
Since the pandemic, we have seen an increase in issues surrounding mental health, and now with growing economic instability, this is expected to continue to rise. Projections show that “10 million people in England, including 1.5 million children and teenagers, will need new or additional support for their mental health over the next three to five years”.
Recently, a friend explained that when struggling he finds it helps to take time for himself and draw, and this made me want to look further into the connections between art, creativity and wellbeing.
Arts engagement played a key role in supporting mental health in the UK and internationally during the COVID-19 pandemic. At a time when mental health deteriorated for many adults, time spent on creative hobbies was associated with increases in life satisfaction and decreases in symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Since then a study by Brookfield Properties, associated with workplace environments, showed that ‘77% said interesting social, cultural or wellbeing events added to their overall wellbeing’. Despite this many of us do not take the time for ourselves to engage with creativity. We look after our bodies through exercise and the food we eat, yet neglect to give the same attention to our minds.
If you look back to your childhood you might remember finger painting, pasta collages, and loo roll sculptures, activities using mundane materials, yet embedded in our memories. So, at what point did we put the scissors and Pritt stick down and stop looking after our own mental health?
Art as a form of therapy or treatment has been around since the “mid-20th century, when soldiers returning from the battlefields of World War II were left with a condition that was known as “shell shock,” now called post-traumatic stress disorder. Creative outputs were used to support expression and communicate thoughts, feelings, and emotions that were otherwise hard to explain.
Christianne Strang, a professor of neuroscience said, “Creativity in and of itself is important for remaining healthy, remaining connected to yourself and connected to the world”.
A study named ‘The Arts in Psychotherapy‘ has found clear evidence to show that visual self-expression helps with attention and improves mental health and well-being. In fact, both art production and passive engagement are effective; viewing art activates the reward circuitry found in the prefrontal cortex, helping improve functional connectivity, cognitive processes and cognitive flexibility.
There is still plenty of research to be done in the field of art and therapy, but existing evidence shows that making art can lower stress and anxiety, and tackle health conditions associated with addictive behaviours, eating disorders, and alcoholism.
I didn’t have to look far to see the connection between arts and wellbeing, but also to see the lack of support for these industries. Studios are under threat, artists are underpaid, and culture is undervalued; our investment in creative infrastructure mirrors our investment in creative learning. If we do not work to support these industries, they will not in turn be able to support us.
We are losing spaces designed to create and be immersed in creativity, as artists but also as individuals. Studios are closing, cinemas can’t turn the lights on, and clubs and music venues are at risk. A world without culture is bleak and at a time of uncertainty, we need art to communicate thoughts, feelings, and emotions that are otherwise hard to explain.
So how do we make creativity more accessible to all? Worker-led network Organise is petitioning Michelle Donelan, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, to Protect the Arts industry and make it more accessible including a request to provide clear signposting to resources such as funding applications, advice, mentorship and mental health support.
At Creative Land Trust we are working towards long-lasting solutions to the lack of affordable creative workspace across London. Our work aims to support cultural infrastructure and integration across communities, improving access to the arts across London. As individuals and as a society we must work to integrate and sustain the arts in our daily lives, in order to support our health and wellbeing.
This article was partly inspired by Molly Russell, who in 2017 at the age of 14 died from an act of self-harm while suffering from depression and the negative effects of online content. ‘Of 16,300 pieces of content saved, liked or shared by Molly on Instagram in the six months before she died, 2,100 were related to suicide, self-harm, and depression.’ Instagram is a creative social media platform where users, like, share, and follow creative content. We can use our creativity to overpower distressing messages and to try and reach and communicate with those battling mental health, so please try to use your creativity to support others.