Can art help improve mental health?

In this blog we will explore the question “Can art help improve mental health?”

We will also briefly discuss what mental health is and what are some effective art activities one can do to improve and maintain positive mental health.

Can art help improve mental health?

Yes, art can help improve and maintain mental health. 

There have been plenty of studies and reviews that have been conducted regarding the use and efficacy of art and art therapy for the intervention of mental disorders as well as for improving mental health and resilience. 

In a review that explored “The Connection Between Art, Healing, and Public Health”, researchers found that art-based interventions were effective in alleviating and reducing negative psychological and physiological symptoms. 

This review focuses on creative and expressive art activities strictly focused on adult participants in North America and Europe. These activities included: music engagement, visual arts therapy, movement-based creative expression, and expressive writing. 

A 2019 study explored the effectiveness of art therapy on adult women who were suffering from anxiety as an effort to bridge the gap in research and scientific evidence in the effectiveness of art therapy. 

Out of the 59 participants, 47 completed the entire tial and there was a significant reduction in anxiety in those who completed the trial. Along with the reduction in anxiety, the quality of life also improved as well as a positive state of emotional regulation and these positive effects also lasted for up to 3 months during the follow up period. 

The researchers also noted that along with emotional regulation there was also positive intention and effort towards goal oriented action and behaviours in the women which were related or linked to the reduced anxiety. 

Art interventions is seen to be effective even within populations related to terminal care and treatment of other illnesses in terms of alleviating anxiety, depression, and other issues related to the mental distress of undergoing treatment for major illnesses like cancer, 

A 2021 review explored the effect of art therapy on anxiety, depression, and quality of life in individuals who have been diagnosed with cancer and are being treated for it. 

The review of literature was conducted on studies that have been published between September 2009 up to September 2019 related to cancer patients and a total of 731 publications were assessed.

Out of the 731 publications, Seven papers met the inclusion criteria of the study and data was collected from these seven studies. Out of these seven studies four articles reported positive effects of art therapy on anxiety in adults with cancer.

The researchers concluded that art therapy could have some positive impact in decreasing symptoms of anxiety and depression in adult cancer patients as well as improve their quality of life. However, the researchers stressed that more research is required in this regard. 

Although much research points to an affirmative position that art therapy or art interventions are very effective in treatment and reducing psychological symptoms of distress and illnesses, there is much research to be done in terms of how these interventions improve health overall and to what extent. 

What is mental health?

In very simple words, mental health refers to our overall cognitive, emotional, and behavioural wellbeing that is concerned with what we think, feel, and behave. 

Mental health is a crucial part of a person’s life as any disruption in their mental well-being can impact their daily lives, their relationships with other people, and also their occupational progress as well. 

Interestingly, this relationship between mental health and the various factors such as relationships, jobs, day to day activities is bi-directional meaning that such factors can be affected by our mental health and at the same time, these factors can affect our mental health. 

For example, stress at our jobs can impact mental health well-being and this negative state of mental health can impact our ability to handle work responsibilities thus adding more stress. 

Mental health is an important part of our overall health condition. It is a fundamental part of the way we think, feel, interact with each other, the way we live and enjoy life and it is more than just the absence of mental health illnesses. 

What are some effective Art Activities for mental health?

Art activities are various creative exercises such as colouring, creating collages, sculpting etc that can be practised for increasing awareness about self, identifying emotions, enhancing problem-solving skills, and developing awareness. 

Words to live by collage

This art therapy activity is for Teens who find it hard to be vulnerable in judgmental environments where they don’t feel safe to be who they are. 

This activity helps them to identify their core values and their own sense of identity while at the same time help develop coping skills and strategies when they face the stressors and challenges of their lives. 

The Words to Live By activity helps teens to identify and visualise the core values they hold on to through creative collage making. It requires materials like:

  • Old magazines, newspapers, picture books
  • Markers and colored pencils
  • Scissors and glue
  • Cardboard 

The process is as follows:

Take a moment to reflect on your core values or ask yourself what you feel strongly about. 

Once you have a good idea of your values, take a moment to reflect on these values by closing your eyes and focus on breathing. 

Allow you to find the words associated with these values along with the colour, images, shapes, and mood that represent these values. 

Next, when you are ready, begin selecting images, words, phrases, or colours from the magazines and newspapers. 

Use these materials to compile a collage that reflects your values and the words to live by. It can be any form but it has to reflect your values. 

You can find out more about this activity here

Colour your feelings

This particular art therapy worksheet helps children express their emotions or develop an understanding of what they feel or care about. This activity might require children who are younger to be assisted and supported throughout the process. 

To make use of his activity, Start by asking the children to reflect on what makes them feel happy or what they are currently feeling. 

Next, ask them to create an outline of a heart and ask them to colour or fill the heart with various creative materials like glitter, paint, sequins etc. 

Finally, use the work they have done to discuss the emotions or the values they treasure by helping them develop a better understanding of their own emotions and the things that they find valuable. 

You can find out more about this activity here.

Make mandala art

You can make mandalas, create them, and colour them in as a way to meditate and get your mind off things that stress you out. 

Here is a link for you to follow to help yourself learn how to make mandala art. 

Paint 

You can get yourself a few paint supplies, some brushes, and some canvas. Use these materials and the colours to express the way you feel when you are either happy, sad, anxious etc. 

Take time to work on small details or large pictures without much thought of the quality of the work that you are doing- what matters is that you are doing it- even if you are doing it without purpose. 

Craft a peaceful collage

Make a collage of various things that make you feel safe; it can be people, views, places, values etc that can help you feel calmer and remind you that you are safe.

This will help you be reminded and be mindful about the positive things in your life including values and attitudes that help you adapt better and develop resilience. 

Conclusion

In this blog we explored the question “Can art help improve mental health?”

We also briefly discussed what mental health is and what are some effective art activities one can do to improve and maintain positive mental health.

Can art help with mental health?

Yes, art can help improve and maintain mental health. 

There have been plenty of studies and reviews that have been conducted regarding the use and efficacy of art and art therapy for the intervention of mental disorders as well as for improving mental health and resilience. 

Can art be used as therapy?

Yes. Art can be used in therapy as a therapeutic intervention. 

The process of art therapy does not require you to be gifted in artistic ability, rather it is a process of exploration without rights or wrongs; it simply teaches you to use creative outlets to support their own process of healing and learning without being hard on one’s self with judgement

What is art therapy in mental health?

According to the American Art Therapy Association (2013) Art therapy is, 

“…an integrative mental health and human services profession that enriches the lives of individuals, families, and communities through active art-making, creative process, applied psychological theory, and human experience within a psychotherapeutic relationship.”

Thus, it can be understood as a field of therapy that combines both art and psychotherapy to help develop self awareness, explore emotions, and address unresolved issues through a creative process, 

How does art heal?

Art heals by creating a connection between mind and body. It forms a mindful and intentional exercises where you are in a state of flow and mediation which lead to positive experiences, positive emotions, and even meaning which all adds to a positive mental health. 

What does art do to your brain?

According to research, the act of engaging in art or creating art enhances brain function. It influences change in brain waves and functioning related to emotions, creates new neural pathways, improves thinking and problem solving, as well as increases serotonin levels. 

References

Mead.E. 15 Art Therapy Activities, Exercises & Ideas for Children and Adults Positive psychology. 26th october, 2021. Retrieved on 19th November 2021. https://positivepsychology.com/art-therapy/

Stuckey HL, Nobel J. The connection between art, healing, and public health: a review of current literature. Am J Public Health. 2010;100(2):254-263. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2008.156497

Abbing A, Baars EW, de Sonneville L, Ponstein AS, Swaab H. The Effectiveness of Art Therapy for Anxiety in Adult Women: A Randomised Controlled Trial. Front Psychol. 2019 May 29;10:1203. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01203. PMID: 31191400; PMCID: PMC6549595.

Bosman, J.T., Bood, Z.M., Scherer-Rath, M. et al. The effects of art therapy on anxiety, depression, and quality of life in adults with cancer: a systematic literature review. Support Care Cancer 29, 2289–2298 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00520-020-05869-0

About Mental Health. Centre for Disease Control and Prevention. 28th June, 2021. Retrieved on 11th feb 2022. . https://www.cdc.gov/mentalhealth/learn/index.htm

Mental health: strengthening our response. WHO. 30th March 2018. Retrieved on 11th feb 2022. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/mental-health-strengthening-our-response

Mental Health. APA Dictionary of Psychology. Retrieved on 11th feb 2022. https://dictionary.apa.org/mental-health

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