Skip to content

The Courier Press: Arts and creativity are powerful tools in improving mental health

Published on The Courier Press by Dan White on October 22, 2021 – (Read the full article here)

Arts columnist Dan White writes that arts and creativity are a powerful tool in improving mental health. He recommends that people become involved in creative activities, such as pottery.

“I recently attended a virtual conference addressing Arts and Mental Health.

Organized by the Mississauga Arts Council, the event featured keynote speakers from across Canada with over 100 people “in attendance”.

The first speaker was a music therapist working in Calgary. Music therapy essentially helps people tap into emotions/expression by using music as the vehicle. The presenter, Jennifer Buchanan, quoted a study stating there was a 37 per cent drop in health care visits by patients with mental health concerns after initiating involvement in arts.

Another woman spoke of her journey using art to reclaim her life after MS took her ability to walk, talk and communicate. She had the sense of being trapped in her body. Finding art therapy was the first and most important step in her working to recover much of her life by systematically retraining her brain.

The arts open new neuron pathways in the brain. The arts truly are the fountain of youth. Involvement in arts and artistic ventures of any kind help us stay focused in a world that is always demanding that we multi-task.

A video presentation by the same Mississauga Arts Council featured Dr. Ian Dawe, a psychiatrist and associate professor at the University of Toronto. He said: “Engaging in creative activities can actually improve our overall health. It improves your brain function, mental health and physical wellbeing.” The result of “flow”, that feeling of being completely immersed in something to the point where you lose track of time, actually makes you feel better. It reduces anxiety, it boosts your mood, even slows your heart rate.

Creativity helps calm the mind, much like meditation, and can help those suffering from dementia. Writing helps those dealing with trauma by processing the emotions, as does art therapy (creatively working through the trauma). This is a case where the art may not be created to share, and it is not done for an evaluation: it is simply a way to process what otherwise may be too difficult to put into words.

When people play musical instruments, there is significant data that identifies that those people have better connectivity between the left and right hemispheres of the brain and this in turn leads to an improvement in cognitive function.

You can view his full video at –

The Centre for Addiction and Mental health notes that mental illness costs Canada $51 billion annually. It would seem financially prudent for all levels of government to invest in the arts to assist the over 40 per cent of the population that will struggle with mental health at some time in their lives. Throwing money at what some would consider traditional approaches to mental health may not be the best or most cost-effective approach. Medication has its place in treatment … but it is far from the only remedy.

Enough studies have been done proving that involvement in the arts improves mental health, decreases loneliness, and provides an entire spectrum of other benefits.

When I was a teacher, whether it was in the music class, theatre or writing in English, I saw the benefits of involvement in creative projects in teens. I witnessed incredibly powerful presentations on stage that tore at the heartstrings of my class and brought them together as one.

In case you have been away from secondary school for a number of years let me offer a quick refresher. High school is cliquey, often harsh, full of angst and drama. It is not the best time of most people’s lives. Rather, it is a series of challenges that we hope to emerge from so we can create our lives. But it is also beautiful, malleable, often forgiving, inspiring and a place where we cut our teeth as young and independent adults.

So, to see a group of students blend together to support a classmate in a powerful performance, or an even larger group all working together for a common goal, was always inspiring. I witnessed students coming to terms with bullying, mental health, home environment and so much more; finding tools in creative ventures that would see them through the rest of their lives.

Remember when you were a child and everything was fresh and you could investigate the world using Lego or mud, crayons or coloured paper? Perhaps it is time to find a pottery class, buy a colouring book, learn an instrument, try out acting or get back to woodworking. It doesn’t just keep you busy, it keeps you healthy. If your community doesn’t offer a class or course you would like, if there isn’t an adequate facility for you to meet, contact a municipal politician. They may just have a solution.

Finally, a few quotes:

Every artist dips his brush in his own soul and paints his own nature into his pictures.

— Henry Ward Beecher

The purpose of art is to lay bare the questions that have been concealed by the answers.

— James Baldwin

What is possible in art becomes thinkable in life.

— Brian Eno