By Kelly Grehan
Mental health problems are the scourge of our time.
Around one in four adults in England is diagnosed with a mental illness at some point in their lives. This includes depression (3.3 million people are currently diagnosed with this), eating disorders, psychosis, personality disorder and anxiety.
The NHS spends around £11.7 billion on mental health, including £400 million on drugs every year. But all indicators are that this is woefully inadequate and terrifyingly 57% of Clinical Commissioning Groups planned to reduce their spending on mental health services this year.
I fear we will make no progress in improving the overall mental health of citizens in this country whilst we continue to rely solely on a heavily stretched medical model to fix the problem.
That is not to say that I am not absolutely in favour of increasing the mental health treatment budget (indeed I am a trainee counsellor). However I think we need to start looking at mental health in a holistic way.
To quote a well known leaflet by charity Mind “good mental health isn’t something you have, but something you do.”
So I am cheered by the publication of the report Creative Health:
‘The Arts for Health and Wellbeing from the All Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing http://www.artshealthandwellbeing.org.uk/appg-inquiry/
The report found that arts-led alternatives to conventional therapy and medicine could serve as effective treatments for many mental health issues.
Some of the findings conclude that:
● Music therapy reduces agitation and need for medication in 67% of people with dementia.
● An arts-on-prescription project has shown a 37% drop in GP consultation rates and a 27% reduction in hospital admissions. This represents a saving of £216 per patient.
● Arts therapies have been found to alleviate anxiety, depression and stress while increasing resilience and wellbeing.
● Visual and performing arts in healthcare environments help to reduce sickness, anxiety and stress.
● The heart rate of newborn babies is calmed by the playing of lullabies. The use of live music in neonatal intensive care leads to considerably reduced hospital stays.
● A 10-week art and craft programme with mothers experiencing anxiety and their children saw a 77 percent reduction in anxiety and depression and an 86 percent reduction in stress. The bonds between mothers and children improved, and the emotional, social and cognitive development of the children was stimulated.
None of these things sound unattainable to roll out across the country do they?
I suggest that rather than finances being the problem, what is needed is a change in culture and an acceptance that mental wellbeing is something that requires investment and that should be addressed through multiple disciplines.
Is one reason that mental health is not addressed in this way because the Ministry of Health works in a silo?
Could an approach of working with the Department of Culture could have greater success?
Is it possible this problem is compounded by an attitude that persists that art is something to be enjoyed by the privileged?
The proportion of GDP spent on the arts by the government remains below the European average.
This was recognised in the Labour Party manifesto with a promise to rectify this and introduce an arts pupil premium for every primary school pupil, in line with the existing PE pupil premium.
Announcing the policy Jeremy Corbyn said :
“There is creativity in all of us but we need to give people the opportunities for this creativity to flourish.”
Art based activity (including drama and music) is repeatedly shown to cut stress even if the person is not good at it!!
Therefore it is logical to assume that a if society gave people of every age access to art then they would have less mental health issues.
Continuing with the theme of looking at holistic approach to wellbeing, last year Natural England published a study which reviewed the benefits and outcomes of approaches to green care for mental ill-health. Nature is known to be one of the most reliable boosts to mental health.
However it has strangely become less accessible to people as we spend more times in offices, cars and generally trapped indoors. 80% of people in England agree that the quality of the built environment influences the way they feel yet our environments are typically becoming more urbanised and our leisure time increasingly spent inside.
It is unsurprising that as people live in increasingly overcrowded housing and towns that mental well being suffers. We know access to parks, rivers and natural improves lives: people who live in the areas within our cities and towns that have more green or blue space have better mental health.
As with art, a new approach is needed to ensure people of all ages are able to access and enjoy outdoor living. The evidence for this being of benefit is plentiful. For example:
● Spending just 15 minutes a day in nature can boost focus and ease anxiety.
● From a mindfulness perspective being in nature helps us to become present.
● Children who play outside are more physically active, which helps prevent obesity, heart disease, diabetes and other health issues
● Research done in hospitals, offices, and schools has found that even a simple plant in a room can have a significant impact on stress and anxiety.
It is a failing of our society that mental health remains so neglected in terms of recognition, treatment and approach.
Let’s see a truly comprehensive integrated approach, across government departments and across all organisations including employers, aimed at improving emotional wellbeing.
It is quite evident that such an approach and investment in relevant projects would save money and would lead to happier people, surely that should be the real goal of our community?
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