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It’s Official – The Arts are good for you!

‘The time has come to recognise the powerful contribution the arts can make to our health and wellbeing.’  This is the opening sentence to ‘Creative Health’ a report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing published on the 19th July.  This report is packed full of research findings, recommendations, and good news stories of how the Arts can help people to stay well, recover faster, manage long-term conditions and experience a better quality of life.  The reports foreword states: ‘We hope that our report will influence the thinking and practice of people working professionally in health and social care as well as of artists and people working in cultural organisations.  It is addressed to all who are thinking about the future of these crucial public services.’  

The following quotes are from the Short Report and can be downloaded from the link at the end of this article.

The key messages of the Report are:

  • The arts can help keep us well, aid our recover and support longer lives better lived
  • The arts can help meet major challenges facing health and social care: ageing, long-term conditions, loneliness and mental health
  • The arts can help save money in the health service and social care

‘Our report shows that the arts can enable people to take greater responsibility for their own health and wellbeing and enjoy a better quality of life.  Engagement with the arts can improve the humanity, value for money and overall effectiveness of the health and social care systems.’

‘We consider the growth of social prescribing, whereby people are referred to activities in the community, in preference to medication.  We look at the benefits to health and the cost savings arts-on-prescription activities provide.’

One contributor wrote: ‘I find that as long as I can paint I can cope.  It doesn’t mean that depression has gone but I no longer have to keep going back to my GP for more anti-depressants, I just lock myself away and paint until I feel slightly better.’

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‘We discuss ways in which the arts can improve the mental health of new mothers and encourage the emotional, social and cognitive development of children.  Over the course of a 10 week art and craft programme, mothers experienced a 77 percent reduction in anxiety and depression and an 86 percent reduction in stress.  The bonds between mothers and children improved and the emotional, social and cognitive development of the children was stimulated.’

‘A young man who has suffered severe anxiety and depression since the age of 20 said: ‘About my darkest time, I made a decision that I had one more thing to try and that was to stop hiding.  I couldn’t keep up this double life of portraying happiness to everybody. So it started with a poem.  Putting it into poetry made it somehow easier to say.  I filmed it and I posted it onto social media which was terrifying, but quite necessary for me, because the support that I got from that was amazing, and it changed how I saw everything that was happening.  Because, for the first time, I wasn’t as afraid to talk about it.  That was the biggest step for me.  Poetry then turned into music when I realised that these words that I’d written could be lyrics.  Then that became my next weapon, I guess, in this battle against depression.’

‘We show how the arts can help with expressing difficult emotions and experiences for people in the criminal justice system and how arts therapies provide an effective non-verbal means of accessing painful memories for those with post-traumatic stress.’

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‘The arts can support healthy ageing and counteract loneliness at all ages.  In a chapter on older adulthood we look at evidence that social participation by older people can have as positive an impact on health as giving up smoking, with the arts providing enjoyable opportunities for social participation from group singing to community knitting.’

‘It is predicted that, by 2040, 1.2 million older people in the UK will have a dementia diagnosis. Our full report describes in detail how engagement with the arts can provide significant help in meeting this enormous challenge.  It discusses how dancing, painting or playing a musical instrument can boost brain function, potentially helping to delay the onset of dementia.’

‘Very importantly the arts can also improve quality of life for carers.  One carer writes: ‘To be given a terminal prognosis is devastating for both the patient and family.  To take away your future, the opportunity to grow old and grey with your spouse and watch your children grow and thrive.  You lose your independence and your sense of self, your purpose and role in life.  Yet in the midst of this suffering lies the Art room.  An oasis of positivity and fulfilment providing a different purpose.  One of  creativity and self-expression.  It is a place where the self is rediscovered and allowed to flourish.  A place where you feel valued and worth investing in.  It’s medicine for the soul and every bit as vital as drugs and chemotherapy.  A life-fulfilling experience that has changed both our lives for the better.’

‘At the end of life, participatory arts and arts therapies can offer physical, social, psychological and spiritual support to people facing death.’

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Comment from Rochester Arts in Mission Co-ordinator, Revd. Mandy Carr:

This is an exciting report that underlines the invaluable contribution that the Arts make to human well-being and flourishing.  As churches we should be rightly concerned with promoting community engagement.  Welcome, building friendships, and caring for our neighbours is essential to who we are and what we believe.  We particularly have a responsibility to engage with those on the margins.  Much has been said recently about the rise of loneliness, mental health issues and dementia.  It is both a pastoral imperative and social justice issue that the Church ensures that it is engaged with its communities on these subjects.  The Arts give a wonderful opportunity to do this in a gentle, yet effective way.  This report gives plenty of support to this assertion, in academic and anecdotal ways.   It confirms what those involved in the Arts already know: it does you good. 

However, we are mind, body, spirit creatures and the potential for our spiritual growth through the arts is also significant.  Whether it is acknowledged by the participants or not, we are made in the image of a Creator God and there is something that connects us to that core when we create.  It nourishes us and changes us.  It can even become a mystical experience as we enter into the act of creation in art, craft, or performance and its beauty transforms our soul.   The Artist, Grayson Perry, quotes in the report:

‘Art helps us access and express parts of ourselves that are often unavailable to other forms of human interaction.  It flies below the radar, delivering nourishment for our soul and returning with stories from the unconscious.  A world without art is an inhuman world.  Making and consuming art lifts our spirits and keeps us sane.  Art, like science and religion, helps us make meaning from our lives, and to make meaning is to make us feel better.’

Rochester Diocese is currently working on a strategic framework for the future.  The results of the consultation of ‘Our Conversation; Our Future’ will shape our Diocesan vision for the coming years.  With such a strong report coming out from the All-Party Parliamentary Group, I hope that the Arts will be in the forefront of any future ministry.

What better time is there to get in contact with us to arrange an Arts in Mission Consultancy to start a creative project for your community?

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The media clips and the main and short report can be downloaded at the following link: http://www.artshealthandwellbeing.org.uk/appg-inquiry/