Mental Well-Being and Engagement in the Arts

Justin Karter
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Public health researchers at the University of Western Australia examined the relationship between recreational arts engagement and mental well-being in the general population. The results, which have implications for policy makers as well as health practitioners, indicate that those who engage with the arts for two or more hours per week have significantly better mental well-being.

“The ability of the arts to promote, maintain and improve population health requires further investigation,” the study authors write, “as arts activities and events have the potential to contribute to health promotion strategies and have implications for innovative public health policy and practice.”

person-woman-art-creativeArts engagement, including both active participation in the creation of art and receptive participation, like attending a concert or play, has become an increasingly popular subject of research as a means of improving population health. In this study, the researchers take the first steps toward identifying a “dose-response” relationship, quantifying the amount of arts engagement that promotes good mental health.  For the sake of this study, good mental health was defined as “a state of well-being whereby an individual is able to contribute to their community, cope with the stresses of everyday life, is able to realise their potential and work productively.”

Between September 2011 and May 2012, the researchers conducted 989 telephone interviews asking a representative sample of people in Western Australia about their arts habits and mental well-being. They found that in the past 12 months 83% had some level of arts engagement, with an average of “16 hrs attending arts events; 63 hrs making or creating art; 5 hrs learning about the arts; 9 hrs working or volunteering in the arts (on a non-professional basis) and 7 hrs as a member of a arts society, club or organisation.”

Despite having on average less “energy to spare,” those who had a high engagement in the arts (over 100 hours a year) had higher scores regarding optimism, interest in other people, thinking clearly, feeling loved, being interested in new things and feeling cheerful.”

“In general, respondents who participated in 100 or more hours of arts engagement per year had [well-being] scores approximately two points higher than other levels of engagements.”

The correlation between arts engagement and well-being was non-linear, however, as effects were only seen after the threshold of 100 hours per year or 2 hours per week was reached. The researchers speculate that “emotional gains were likely to accrue once an individual attained a certain level of understanding and knowledge about an art-form, activity or event.”

The researchers draw three major inferences from the study:

  1. “First, 100 or more hours/year (i.e. two or more hours/week) of arts engagement may have the potential to enhance mental well-being in the general population.”
  2. “Second, when engaging in creative activities and events, the amount of time engaged in the arts, or ‘the art dose’, may be important in obtaining mental health benefits.”
  3. “Third, in time, if the relationship between hours engaged in the arts and good mental health is found to be causal, there is potential for new and innovative ‘time based’ arts-mental health campaigns, such as those used to promote the health benefits of physical activity.”

 

They conclude:

“Evidence of an arts-mental health relationship was found in this study. Those who engaged in 100 or more hours/year of arts engagement (i.e. two or more hours/week) reported significantly better mental well-being than other levels of engagement. The suitability of the arts as a population based strategy to influence the mental well-being of the general population should be investigated further.”

 

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Davies, C., Knuiman, M., & Rosenberg, M. (2016). The art of being mentally healthy: a study to quantify the relationship between recreational arts engagement and mental well-being in the general population. BMC public health16(1), 1. (Full text)

7 COMMENTS

  1. “The suitability of the arts as a population based strategy to influence the mental well-being of the general population should be investigated further.”

    Sorry to be negative but that line strategy to influence the mental well-being of the general population sounds real creepy to me.

    Sounds like a farmer talking about his animals. Creepy creepy creepy.

  2. As an artist, I do so hope this might mean the psychiatrists will some day get out of the business of trying to murder the artists with their anticholinergic intoxication poisonings. Currently, the psychiatrists believe running art programs, enriching the lives of children through the arts, properly raising one’s children, and working as a “prolific” artist equates to being “unemployed,” thus worthy of murdering.

    I do so hope our society some day will start actually paying the art program directors, educators, and living artists, though. “The labourer is worthy of his reward.”

    I will say ignoring my psychologist’s advise to “give up all your activities and concentrate on the meds,” and instead continuing with all my activities including painting, did likely help save me. Once my psychiatrist finally saw my work, he claimed it was “work of smart female.” And he finally realized I was “insightful.” So, he finally weaned me off his “psychosis” creating drug cocktails. What an annoyance to reality are psychologists and psychiatrists who judge people based upon lies from child molesters, rather than what the person actually says.

  3. Yes, indeed, it’s focused, engaging, grounding, and fun to create art. And it engages a community in just the right way, from the heart. The arts is what brings people together in a fun loving way.

    My transition and personal transformation was based exactly on this. I had never done anything like this and as the result of doing volunteer work while recovering from disability, I took the plunge and started taking a singing and performing class, because I was sick and tired of the mental health system that wasn’t getting me anywhere other than on a downward spiral. I wanted to have some fun, not to continue hashing and re-hashing my issues. That just served to keep me down and feeling bleak about everything. I was really over looking back at the past, and chose to deliberately start planning a better future.

    Turning to the performing arts WAS my healing, and it set the stage (so to speak) for the rest of my life. My partner and I are creating an arts and performing arts healing center, which would include natural healing, meditation, qi gong, etc., all under one roof. It’s been our dream vision for a while now, and so far, it’s looking pretty good, the pieces are actually coming together! I have healers, teachers and artists of all kinds lined up, and our film about performing for residents of an assisted living facility will be finished soon, hopefully for summer release. This is one plan for raising funds to make this happen.

    Here’s a brief trailer to my film on healing and music. It supports well what this article is saying:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=khwFWx75m94

    This is a work in progress, and I consider it universal, for anyone in any part of the global population interested in purely creating. To me and to my partner, creativity is a way of life.

    Anyone interested to know more or would like to be part of this, please feel free to inquire by writing me at [email protected]

    • Btw, we plan to have healing classes, music classes, performance classes, filmmaking classes, and all sorts of opportunities to put these into action, to create and display our art together. Support all along the way.

      Any teachers, healers, and artists, I’m always on the lookout for anyone interested in participating in something like this. Those of us involved so far have taught all of this elsewhere, and I’m bringing everyone together so we can have a teaching, healing, creative arts community. That’s the plan! God willing…

  4. I would prefer to read articles like this from madinamerica authors. Articles that form a strategy for having better services that promote enjoyable activities, arts, advocacy, natural community support groups. Natural supports were the best tool for my Personal Recovery.

    I usually don’t enjoy articles that talk about how it’s ok and normal to feel depressed or anxious. I like the articles on schizophrenia as I’m proud that I experience symptoms of psychosis, but I think they are too long and are overthought.

    Services that helped me find natural community supports and the arts as this article discusses where more important to my Personal Recovery.

    ~ Pat Hayes

  5. I too paint (and exhibit and sell) and find that while I am painting I have a great feeling of connection to both myself and the work. It isn’t quite as intense with my photography, but as I am developing a better photographic technique (advanced DSLR) I am finding I am taking a greater interest in really looking at this world, and seeing great beauty in all sorts of unexpected things.

    This is deeply healing, as is sharing in the hope that others will see the value too. Before arthritis cut in, I also gained great delight from fully immersing myself practicing my classical guitar (for my ears only!).

    Then I see governments cut funding to the arts, saying they are a luxury communities can ill afford and that they don’t actually contribute to economic growth, and artists should get real jobs etc etc etc, and I realise these people have lost their way…BIG TIME.

    The arts have been central to community and human development since the first marks made on cave walls and to believe that people can exist without joining together in their expression is just ….ludicrous. This is where writing came from, and why religions are so firmly based in music and art – creating, singing, and being in beautiful environments, expressing oursleves, lifts the human spirit and binds communities….even I, as an avowed atheist, can see how this coming together in recognition of creativity, beauty and life is an essential part of what it is to be human.

    The arts do this in ways that other fields do not.