New study provides evidence that art courses can improve mental wellbeing

Researchers at the University of Gloucestershire have recently evaluated data from nearly 1,300 primary care patients in South West England, finding a course of arts-on-prescription to provide a significant improvement in overall wellbeing, including in those with very complex care needs.

The group’s findings have been published recently in European Journal of Public Health.

“Social prescribing”, or the provision of non-medical interventions in primary care settings, has been on the rise in recent years. It is based on the knowledge that health is determined by a wide variety of factors, and these wider factors (social, emotional, and economic) cannot be remedied by medicine alone. They are a response to the biggest public health challenges we face today; mental health, loneliness, ageing, and long-term health conditions. Patients can be referred to participate in these schemes for very general reasons, like increasing overall wellbeing, self-esteem, or confidence; or for more specific reasons, like providing support during bereavement, or reducing anxiety or depression.

Unlike art therapy, arts-on-prescription schemes provide art courses where patients can choose to learn how to draw, paint, create mosaics, or playwright. The courses are led by local artists, and are community-based rather than being based on specific medical needs. The groups that are referred are usually quite small, with between three and ten individuals, and may be based in local surgeries or community facilities. Those who take part are then provided with materials, and a dedicated space to carry out their activities. What makes these interventins unique is that they provide the participants with anonymity from what has brought them there, eliminating a shared “elephant in the room” that is their diagnosis, or specific medical need.

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