How the arts can positively affect our health and well-being

Let's focus on the arts as a route to the mental health solution.

How the arts can positively affect our health and well-being

Mental health is changing the social landscape of the next generation. As a young person writing to you, it struck me as fallible that I accept poor mental health in my age group as a given. This should never be the case. Whilst many mental health difficulties are affecting teenagers today, there is one antidote in common: the arts. 

A political solution

Awareness of mental health difficulties has been on the rise in recent years. The Government has committed to spending more money to mental health provisions and Prime Minister Theresa May also appointed a minister to a brand new cabinet position: Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention. A new government scheme for an academy focusing on sociality over drug prescriptions is also emerging. There was also recently #worldmentalhealthday, where celebrities and the public alike came together to share their stories. Given the increase in both political and social awareness and activity around mental health, that must surely mean a resolution to the growing difficulties?

Not necessarily, and it takes more than raised awareness and a political maneuver to solve the international deep-rooted affect that mental health has on the next generation. 

Whilst I understand there are diverse reasons behind each mental health difficulty, today we’re focussing on education as a cause for mental health difficulties.

The education system puts unnecessary pressure on young children and teenagers to meet grade boundaries and standardised criteria. The debilitating effect of this can be seen throughout the young generation, and the Government, in its drive for STEM not STEAM, is only further contributing to it.

Art is good for the heART

The benefits of art are innumerable and personal to every mental health sufferer and artist. Unlike mathematics and science, art is unique. To that end it encourages people to take ownership of their work and experience pride in the work produced. 

Our education system rewards through percentages and grades, whereas art rewards through individual satisfaction and experimentation. Whereas calculating a wrong answer in algebra is a formidable fate, there is no “wrong” in art and creative problem solving is strongly encouraged.

Whether the chosen art form is painting, music, dance, writing, sculpture, animation, or something entirely different, creative education promises stress relief and escapism. In a culture that’s becoming incontestably more hectic, noisy and crowded, discovering a individual hobby can affect mental health sufferers immeasurably. 

Sarah Hill, an 18 year old student, struggled for years with anorexia and is still recovering from depression. However arts had a profound effect on her recovery journey. 

“Creative writing has helped me immensely. The ability to express my emotions through creativity is an ability I have mastered over the years, and one I feel very blessed to have attained. I believe, personally, taking a pen to the paper is far more therapeutic than any other ‘therapy’. It is self love, self expression, with just the right amount of escapism.

Grounding myself in my characters, experiencing narratives other than my own life, and working towards a wholly creative product gives me a sense of hope for my own future, and a belief in myself that has given me the confidence to keep fighting, despite the struggles.” 

Take courage, make mistakes

Here’s how you can get started and rid your mind of the anxieties that the scathing academic pressure creates. 

Step 1

Sit down. Take a breath. Forget the tangled knot that is your to-do list and think of the last time you consumed art. What was it? What particularly struck you? Perhaps you never get a spare afternoon to visit the local gallery or can’t afford concert tickets, but art is everywhere, and notoriously unnoticeable. 

Whether it’s your favourite singer’s new record, your grandmother’s old photographs, or an experimental dance you’ve seen on YouTube, define your favourite type of art. 

Step 2

Try it out!

Easier said than done, I know. Perhaps you live rurally with no local singing or dance groups, or perhaps you struggle in new social circles and couldn’t imagine anything worse than being the only new person in a group.

Undoubtedly, the discomfort you’ll overcome from experiencing these new groups will create a stronger, more resilient, and less-stressed you. Valuing basic skills like making mistakes and learning how to overcome failure, which you’ll experience as an artist, is imperative if we’re to overcome the “failure fear” epidemic. 

Step 3

Let’s not be intimidated. The word “artist” often signifies an exotic bohemian with paint brushes as hair clips and a dusty attic, or a prolific professional high-up in the art world. If you have made art, then you too, are an artist. 

Being an artist is an identity, unique to what inspires you, what you experiment with, and what you create. For now, maybe it’s a wonky misshapen pot from the local pottery club. For now. But isn’t there something strangely satisfying about moulding wet clay with your hands on a spinning table?

The ultimate mental health solution

Art is often dubbed as “pleasing for the soul”. The physical creation of art can act as a stress-buster, endophin-releaser and an antidote to emotional pain. Let’s take a step back from the scathing academic environment that teenagers face today and encourage young people to pursue that crafty hobby. If we want to cure the downwards spiral, let’s put the ART back in HEART. 


Sienna James

Sienna James Voice Team

Formerly Assistant Editor, Sienna now studies History of Art at the University of Cambridge and loves to write about the intersection of politics, history and visual art. Sienna is author of the Creative Education and Instaviews series.

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