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Art as a prescription

Newly published research shows that creative arts courses can have real and tangible benefits to our general wellbeing, as well as help those diagnosed with depression and anxiety to develop coping mechanisms and improve their health.

The University of Gloucestershire has been working with specialist creative health charity, Artlift, to develop the largest dataset of arts on prescription participants in the world.

Arts on prescription (also called exercise on prescription) courses are weekly sessions of recreational activity prescribed to patients from primary or secondary care.

Researchers have been evaluating Artlift’s programmes including mosaic making, poetry and playwriting, watercolour painting and photography, for nearly a decade. Courses now also span more contemporary art forms such as hip-hop dance and graffiti.

The evidence gathered shows that these arts courses not only lead to improvements in general wellbeing, but can have a real effect on diagnosed issues such as depression and anxiety.

Social prescribing has been growing over the last decade and has recently been formalised as part of the NHS long term plan. The research provides evidence of the benefits and utility of these types of social prescribing. For example, the work suggests that there are no particular individual groups who benefit more or less from such treatment; everyone could benefit from taking part in these activities.

Gloucestershire has been recognised by the Royal College of General Practitioners as being a centre of excellence for social prescribing, due in part to its long history of producing excellent evidence on these programmes, particularly in the area of arts for health.

The courses are not therapy. They are, quite simply, courses that allow people to learn and develop skills in creative arts, in physical activity, or in conservation and outdoors activities. They are usually carried out in groups, and participants will take part based on their interests rather than their specific healthcare needs.

Dr Rachel Sumner, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Gloucestershire, said:

“I am absolutely sold on the benefit that these programmes provide to patients in our healthcare system, and they are very much the answer to the current questions posed in public health about social disconnection and our mental health crisis, which is now being recognised at the national and international level.

“Each of the programmes I’ve been lucky enough to work with have provided truly incredible stories from their participants, showing the profound meaning that these often life-changing interventions can produce.”