Art can help tackle depression

Visual arts can help reduce levels of depression and increase self-respect, according to a new study led by the University of Brighton’s Professor Alan Tomlinson.

Painting, ceramics, sculpture, printmaking, design, crafts, photography, filmmaking, and architecture, can also encourage and stimulate re-engagement with society for people with mental health issues.

Professor Tomlinson, the University’s Professor of Leisure Studies, and project partners conducted the review for the Economic and Social Research Council. It has been published by the What Works Centre for Wellbeing, an independent research centre looking at evidence-informed ways to improve wellbeing.

His report said the importance of the visual arts in contributing to the wellbeing of adults with mental health conditions has been little documented.

The new review looked at self-reported wellbeing outcomes of visual arts projects. Its key findings were that engaging in the visual arts can reduce reported levels of depression and anxiety; increase self-respect, self-worth and self-esteem; encourage and stimulate re-engagement with the wider, everyday social world; support in participants a potential re-negotiation of identity through practice-based forms of making or doing.

The review also confirmed the importance of providing secure and safe non-stigmatised spaces for arts interventions and the importance of supporting and sustaining collaborative facilitation of programmes and sessions.

But the review unearthed some negative aspects: engagement with the visual arts can generate stress for participants who feel pressure to complete activities or commit to artmaking. And there was a very real fear that the end of an intervention would mean participants returning to a world of anxiety, decreasing confidence and social isolation.

Professor Tomlinson said: “Overall, however, the review shows that for adults starting visual arts activities or programmes, the subjective wellbeing outcomes are, for the majority of participants, positive.”

The review highlighted a lack of resources and infrastructure to ensure sustainable practices and interventions. Professor Tomlinson said: “There is a role here for policies that promote more adequately-resourced, properly-sustained, and rigorously-evaluated partnerships of mental health professionals, artists and researchers.

“This would facilitate a better understanding of the long-term benefits and wellbeing outcomes for those for whom innovative forms of visual art interventions have proven influential and potentially life enhancing.”

The report also called for partnership funding for more research into the long-term benefits of supporting visual arts participation.

Professor Tomlinson collaborated with and had input from Dr Louise Mansfield, Professor Tess Kay, Professor Norma Daykin, Professor Paul Dolan, StefanoTestoni, Dr Catherine Meads, Dr Alistair John, Professor Guy Julier, Dr Annette Payne, Lily Grigsby-Duffy, Jack Lane, and Professor Christina Victor.

To read the full report, go to:


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