“Creative Health” also looks at the impact of participatory arts programs and art therapies on those who have experienced trauma or hardship. One study highlighted in the document followed two groups of young people with social and emotional difficulties, finding that those engaging with arts therapy showed outward signs of improvement and reported “clinically significant improvements in wellbeing, communication, concentration and focus, level of trust in others, team working and quality of life.”
“It is unfortunate, therefore, that children in special schools have less support for the arts than children in mainstream education,” notes the report. “We advocate that resources should be distributed according to need.” The report also found that while the impact of art therapies has been thoroughly documented, less scholarship exists around the medicinal impact of participatory arts more broadly.
The report also found additional evidence that the arts can help reduce anxiety and stress. In one case study, 46 mothers experiencing mental distress participated in a 10-week arts course alongside their children, after which they reported a reduction in anxiety and stress by 77 percent and 86 percent, respectively.
In looking at who participates in such programs, the report notes that “disadvantaged and marginalised groups” are “well represented within arts and health activities.” That said, there are grim reasons underlying the engagement: Those who access art and health programs are those in need of medical treatment, and people residing on the lower end of the socioeconomic ladder are “disproportionately affected by ill health.”
The report concludes with 10 recommendations to facilitate “the change of thinking and practice that can open the way for the potential of the arts in health to be realised.” They include the creation of a national strategic center to promote policy and undertake additional research, with the suggestion that long-term studies focus further on filling the “gaps in evidence” regarding the connection between art and health.
The report also encourages the NHS and care groups to more fully incorporate the arts into their treatment plans where appropriate.
“We ask all those who believe in the value of the arts for health and wellbeing to join forces with us and speak up,” the authors conclude.