THE BLOG

Using Science and the Creative Arts to Enhance Mental Health and Emotional Well-Being

22/04/2016 14:16

"Life isn't a support-system for art. It's the other way around."
Stephen King

'Creativity' is applicable to a broad spectrum with Science and Creative art on either end. Where and how the twain meet for the betterment of individuals, communities and cultures is the eternal question. The answer is surprisingly simple-in the fascinating conundrum called the human mind!

A healthy mind supports the body. A healthy individual supports a healthier family, society, culture and world. Using the creative arts to foster healthy minds promotes an inclusive, and empathic approach to emotional health and learning.

I refer to science as the logic/reasoning behind the workings of the mind, body and universe. Science attempts to explain emotions, feelings and actions; Creative arts are media for their expression.

In this context, the traditional delineation between Science and Art becomes arbitrary. On the spectrum between Science and Art, creativity clusters fall within five powerful worlds of relevance to my field: Neuroscience/Medicine (Mind /body), Language/Education (Expressed/written word), Performing arts (Music /dance), Visual arts (Painting/photography/design) and Culture (Heritage/awareness/identity). Their balanced fusion can contribute immensely to positive mental health from individual, societal and humanitarian perspectives.

Individually, it is not about using right or left brains anymore. It is about promoting the right connections, allowing different parts of our brains to talk to each other effectively. That's exactly what happens when we use the arts. Scanning studies on brain regions shows that specific overlapping areas of the brain light up in response to music, artwork, writing poetry, working out a mathematical proof or discovering a scientific principle- all are experienced as pleasurable and rewarding.

Creative arts have been shown to help developmental conditions (Autism) , brain involvement (Epilepsy/Learning Disability), mental illnesses (Anxiety, Depression, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, Schizophrenia), emotional regulatory difficulties and self-harming, rehabilitative conditions (Brain injury), degenerative conditions (Dementia) and physical health conditions (Kidney/ heart disease). We need art to stimulate the 'healthy brain', rather than focusing solely on combating illness.

From a healthcare perspective, studies and clinical experience attest to the fact that music and art in personal lives and environments promote mental health and recovery from illness. They reduce the impact of illness, pain, anxiety, and stress. Hospitals are rightfully investing in dynamic audio-visual environments amidst the chaos and stress of human suffering (More than 40 percent of healthcare facilities in 2007 had arts programs including musical performances, healing gardens ,art classes, paintings and wall murals, according to a report from Arts & Health Alliance,US,2009). These initiatives help patients, visitors, care-givers and staff alike- A piano performance in the corridors of a busy hospital brings a welcome respite. Pausing to admire art between busy clinics rejuvenates me. A child's colourful scrawls on a Paediatric ward wall mural makes me smile. A happier healthcare workforce stays longer in demanding jobs and contributes better to effective care.

I tell my medical trainees that the approach to patient care is a creative art. In addition, creative arts like music can further their observation and empathy.

Healthcare professionals who work collaboratively to integrate arts into healthcare find it cost-effective too- Studies show that integration of arts into healthcare mean shorter length of stay in hospital, lesser medication, fewer health-related complications, better medication concordance, enhanced resilience/ self-worth , reduction in symptoms (Stress, anxiety and depression) and an improved quality of life/ enhanced functioning. The arts are a valuable mode of self-expression and communication in special needs groups (eg., children with learning difficulties). Group Art programs can reduce isolation and promote socialisation.

We undertook a literature review to assess evidence for using music and well-evidenced therapeutic techniques to support emotional processing in adult, child and adolescent populations. Neuroscientific studies suggest that a combination of globally applicable music, guided imagery and therapeutic techniques like mindfulness may be a useful adjunct for emotional processing for milder forms of anxiety, depression, adjustment and emotional regulation conditions. This was the basis for my novel self-guided, music-based therapeutic technique called 'CAPE: Creative Arts for Processing Emotions', intended to support emotional well-being and promote recovery from illness.

Mental health will be in the limelight for the forseeable future. In this era of stress and humanitarian crises, the WHO predicts that mental illness will be the second greatest cause of morbidity in advanced economies in ten years, second only to heart disease. Art is personal and individualistic and getting an objective response applicable to whole populations can be difficult but not impossible. Tapping into existing knowledge and building on it with well-structured scientific studies can help support the applicability of creative art to larger populations. Today's enhanced focus on humane care, with the added benefit of a steadily increasing scientific base, will hopefully support better integration of the arts into lives, healthcare and communities.

Ramya is running a solo art exhibition and a community Art Mosaic project (16-20 May 2016) and launching her novel music-based therapeutic technique CAPE (19th May) during this year's Mental Health Week. Details of the events are on www.ramyamohan.com.

Comments

CONVERSATIONS