Art and Mental Health

I’ve been wanting to write this article for a while now, and I feel like this is now the right time. With lockdown 2.0 upon us, I feel like now it is very important for us to think about our mental health, and if we can, to be more creative too. It’s has been widely reported that suicide rates have increased this year, which is no surprise with Covid changing everyone’s lives. From being locked in our homes, not seeing family and friends, community groups being stopped, less access to the NHS, people out of work… unfortunately that list goes on. What I am getting at is that people are really suffering, so what can we do now, whilst at home to tackle this issue?

There are a ton of studies and evidence to show that art is good for your mental health, and you don’t have to call yourself an art fan to benefit from it. Everyone has something artistic in them, whether that be the love for looking at art, making art and crafts, designing your garden, baking or cooking, sewing, building toys for your kids, designing your next tattoo…. All of these mean you enjoy some form of art. So we need to embrace that and really tune into what we enjoy doing and how this will help our mental health.

For me personally, I say that I hardly get the chance to be creative, using the excuse of managing two jobs and moving house this year too. But I lie to myself. I love baking and do this as often as I can. As I bake, I am creating. I am taking all the ingredients, adapting and changing and adding new things to suit my tastes, and creating something at the end that I am proud of – and that is delicious if I do say so myself! The other week, as lockdown 2 was enforced, I had a really hard day. Friends of mine were made redundant, I was told I won’t be returning to work for a long time (my other job) I had to change and postpone events for Cotton On MCR. I just felt like sh*t if I’m honest. So I baked some Mars Bar brownies (other chocolate bars are available haha) and listened and sang to Disney songs – and I felt tons better. I know I would have felt the same if I dug out some paints and a canvas and painted a scene I loved, or an abstract of colours that made me happy.

I reached out to friends and fellow creatives to hear their views on art and mental health too. One of my dearest friends is Stella, she owns a business named SoulSpace, a business which ‘helps you slow down and re-connect with yourself and others through relaxation and creativity’. We met at Uni where we studied Fine Art, Stella says:

‘I have always found getting creative to be a natural way to express myself. Art has always been there. When other subjects made me feel lesser than, art never did. After years of putting down the sketch book (after Uni), I inevitably picked it up again… only this time I was wiser and cared less what people thought. In my early twenties I was making art to make a statement, to please my lecturers or make a show. In my late 20’s I really didn’t care about that stuff. I was making art to spread the grief across the wall. I was using my hands to feel the squelch of paint between my fingers, on my palms, creating bodies, faces. I was moving emotion through paint and hitting the paper with visions of women flying. These images came through me, as they always had. Only at Uni I was told to stop painting and try another medium. Now I realise my mistake… I listened and I made art for someone else.’

‘Now I don’t paint to articulate my ideas, I paint to feel all that I can’t articulate. All the crazy, mysterious, messy stuff that floats around is the energy that splashes and smears colour across a blank space. I know I don’t do it often enough because when I do I enter a trance of creativity that helps me return to myself a little. Art is a space for that which we struggle to name in everyday life. Get arty, get playful and get free. For me creating art is about being in flow and dissolving, reframing the challenges of every day human life. It is a state of play that anyone can enter, and is wonderfully healing.’

I also spoke with artist Babs Smith, who has collaborated on projects that focus on science and art, and exploring themes of pain in an artistic way.

‘My project began with ‘Experimental Designs’ in 2019, an event designed to pair artists and researchers to make art and create dialogue around their work. I worked with Senior Lecturer and Researcher at The University of Manchester, Andrea Murray and was later introduced to Shanali Perera, who after having to take early retirement as a Rheumatologist, became a digital artist to express her own pain. Shanali is now a pioneer, exploring invisible pain through art and communicating between Researchers and the patients.’

‘Together we went on to create our project ‘Invisible Pain’. This will provide a safe and open environment on Zoom for artists, patients and scientists to make artwork without judgment and discuss topics directly related to any aspect of pain, treatment and research, creating visual metaphors which prompt new dialogue, there is no predefined outcome. Making art this way provides a degree of separation from the pain and visual notions which cannot be easily expressed verbally. Directly involving the artist in research and the workshop, will produce some very exciting artwork and new collaborations.’

You can find out more about Babs and Shanali Perera’s work and collaborations via these links: https://www.culturehealthandwellbeing.org.uk/news/70-stories/70-stories-beyond-illness / https://www.myancavasculitis.com/

As I mentioned before, there is a ton of research too that backs up how art is good for your mental health. Here are some snippets I found online:

‘Studies suggest that art therapy can be very valuable in treating issues such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and even some phobias. It is a great way to express your emotions without words, process complex feelings and find relief.’ –https://www.rtor.org/2018/07/10/benefits-of-art-therapy/

‘Research has also shown that creating visual art can reduce stress and promote relaxation in people who are hospitalized or homebound due to illness.’ – https://www.health.harvard.edu/mental-health/the-healing-power-of-art

‘During self-isolation due to coronavirus, many are turning to the arts. Perhaps they seek a creative outlet or opportunity for expression; but it’s also possible that their attraction may be driven by an innate desire to use their brains in ways that make them feel good.’ – https://theconversation.com/brain-research-shows-the-arts-promote-mental-health-136668

I want to keep going back to the idea that when I say art, I don’t necessarily mean painting and drawing for artists. You can do that of course, but everyone can do some form of art and be creative in so many different ways. One of Cotton On MCR’s goals is to show that art can be for everyone, no matter what background or education you have. I want this article to be a reminder to people to value their own artistic form, as I say, be it baking, sewing, writing, photography, singing, designing a photo wall, doodling patterns, colour by numbers – whatever is, just take that time out to enjoy your hobby and appreciate the happy endorphins this may bring you.

If you wish to discuss this topic further, or share your art and mental health story, please do get in touch! You can leave a comment below, or use our Contact page, or drop us a message on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.


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