15th November 2018

Art and escapism: the positive mental impacts of creativity

Bella Jewell considers the important role that the arts play in mental health and wellbeing.
Art and escapism: the positive mental impacts of creativity
Photo: Bella Jewell

The Arts Council has released new research suggesting that the arts and culture play a crucial role in improving one’s mental health and well-being. As a result, various projects have been launched, all aimed at harnessing the positive power of art.

The award-winning initiative, ‘Hospital Rooms’, decorates mental health wards with art, playing on the way in which art can alleviate the atmosphere of otherwise sterile environments. The project has gained attention following the recent visit of Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, to the Garnet Ward — one of the many venues that collaborates with the ‘Hospital Rooms’ project.

However, as well as playing a therapeutic role in hospital wards, involvement in creativity can also provide an outlet for the personal relief of stress. In an increasingly fast-paced society, catalysed by the relentless and invasive nature of technology and social media, often we do not make time for a moment of creative escapism.

In 2007, the Department of Health’s Review of Arts and Health Working Group found that art is integral to personal well-being. This research was backed up by a 2011 paper by the British Medical Association, which cited the reasons for this finding to be based on how creative activity can reduce boredom, therefore acting as an escape from daily life.

As a dual-honours student, I often found the stress of student living somewhat intense and claustrophobic. Having attended several life-drawing classes in the Northern Quarter, however, I found these precious moments of creativity to be endlessly valuable in my attempts to maintain a balanced lifestyle.

Escaping my social groups and switching off my phone for two hours allowed me to clear my mind, and instead focus intensely on something creative. In this way, creative activities can also redirect you to a different form of thinking; you’re producing something entirely different from the academic and strictly-structured work that university requires.

As universities and schools face increasing pressure to improve the well-being of their students in light of a mental health crisis, it is clear that space needs to be made for creativity. The lack of Arts-based subjects at The University of Manchester means that there is a gap in this regard.

Groups like ‘Art on the Sly’ and the newly established ‘UoM Arts and Culture society’, however, seek to change this reality. Through arranging accessible and interactive events for students, such as collage sessions and painting workshops, these student-led groups are providing a much-needed creative outlet in the student community.

The act of being creative, however successfully it is executed, is an important contributor to well-being. Whilst the government is cutting funding from the arts, often labelling them ‘soft subjects’, the evidence is clear: art and health go hand-in-hand.

If you are interested in trying out something creative, check out the following groups on Facebook:

Art on the Sly

UoM Arts and Culture Society

Studio Bee Life Drawing.

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