Art boosts long-term mental health – new study

Taking part in art classes can improve mental health and enhance social inclusion over a prolonged period, according to a new study published in the International Journal of Mental Health Promotion.

Anglia Ruskin University conducted an evaluation of an NHS initiative, Open Arts Essex, which consisted of 12-week arts courses in community venues in the county. Participants included mental health service users, carers and self-referred individuals.

The research looked at the participants’ experiences of the course and also measured their wellbeing and social inclusion three and six months after it finished.

A questionnaire taken immediately after the course finished showed that all respondents enjoyed the activity and 90% reported increased motivation to do art work. More than 80% reported improved confidence.

After three months, most were continuing with their art work and some had taken it further, attending other art groups and even enrolling in courses at college. After six months, activities undertaken by participants included joining a choir, running an art group at a substance misuse service and making a documentary film.

Participants also showed significant improvements in measures of mental health and social inclusion, and these improvements continued at both three and six months after the course.

Anglia Ruskin’s Dr Ceri Wilson, co-author of the study, said: “The results of this study add further weight to the growing evidence that arts participation is an effective means of promoting mental wellbeing and social inclusion for people experiencing, or at risk of, mental health problems.

“A key aim was to assess whether the benefits were maintained in the long-term and this study shows this was indeed the case. The majority were continuing their art work and for those pursuing related courses or work, social inclusion gains are likely.

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