Could Art Therapy Be the Key To Tackling Mental Health?

For some people that suffer with a mental illness such as anxiety or depression, things that are ‘normal’ to most, can be a daily challenge.

Leaving the house can take hours of preparation to make yourself look perfect just in case you bump into someone when you’re out… and that thought alone can induce a panic attack.

When social situations with acquaintances, or even friends are sometimes uncomfortable, booking a doctor’s appointment over the phone, or talking to a clinical therapist don’t even bear thinking about.

Hannah, is 23, suffers with severe anxiety and fits the above scenario.

After three years of feeling this way, she sought guidance from her doctor, which she describes as “a difficult process.” After mustering up the courage to see a professional, Hannah was quickly referred to a psychiatrist for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

She is angered when she tells me, “I had to ring up and book the appointment myself, which meant I put it off for a few months.” This only hindered Hannah’s health which sent her mental state to an all-time low, where she didn’t leave the house for weeks. “There was no follow up from the doctor, they just gave me a number and expected me to sort it myself.”

Since Theresa May declared her mission ‘to build a stronger, fairer Britain’, she has also expressed concern for ‘despicable stigma’ and ‘inadequate help’ for those with mental health conditions.

It’s clear from Hannah’s case alone, that this is an issue that has been neglected by the healthcare system for too long, so these words come as a relief from the ignorance previously endured.

A National Health Service report made by the Royal College of Physicians summarised it as ‘underfunded, under-doctored and overstretched’, and in hand with the fact that one in four adults will be diagnosed with a mental illness at some point in their life, it’s only right that the conversation gains some recognition in the process of policy making.

Considering the countries black book of past Prime Ministers and politicians, it’ll come as no surprise that Theresa’s efforts were revealed as a cry for extra support by targeting a vulnerable audience.

Following this, the NHS have faced further budget cuts, sucking them deeper into a financial black hole. The cuts are developing rapidly and paired with a four per cent annual rise in the demand for services, it’s becoming impossible for hospitals to maintain their efforts.

To top it off, Ministers have admitted that there will be a reduction of 0.6 per cent in the spend per head during the financial year 2018-19 which neglects the needs and rights of over stressed hospital staff, and under treated patients.

The healthcare system became increasingly difficult and stressful for Hannah who found the whole process outdated and negative.

“I had to fill out a form with questions like, ‘how many times in the past week have you felt depressed?” she tells me, “I think it should be more positive like, how many times have you felt happy in the past week.”

During a time of consistent missed phone calls and lengthy waiting lists, Hannah discovered Arts Sisterhood UK, who are a creative organisation that provide art therapy classes across the UK, for female identifying people.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends art as a treatment for illnesses such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and eating disorders.

For many people who suffer from these things, the idea of getting creative can be met with the usual insecurities, ‘I’m crap at art’ or ‘not at my age’ are some of the responses I’ve received.

Art doesn’t always mean devoting hours to an intricate still life piece, but it’s a way to express yourself without the confinements of right and wrong and from within a welcoming space.

Many notions of expression are dismissed due to association, a time where we are ‘allowed’ to blissfully create with zero judgement. This is what Ali Strick from Arts Sisterhood aims to revive, “we provide a zone that is free from judgement, stereotypes and discrimination where like-minded female identifying people get together and get to know each other through the power of creativity.

All skill levels are welcomed.

Hannah attended a session in London and illustrates the structure of the session; “there are rolls of paper on the floor and walls… each one has a different theme or emotion that you draw… themes that span from spirit animal to current affairs and self-love.”

Interestingly, trauma in early life damages the right side of the brain, which is one reason why people develop psychological problems. When we focus on creative tasks the same area is stimulated, thus healing negative memories from the past with positive memories of creating something new.

Using the creative arts for recovery displays benefits in the physical, mental and emotional well-being of people of all ages.

Hannah felt inspired by the classes and created Dip Girls, an all-female collective who are a part of a huge creative movement in Bristol. Herself and co-founder Ruby Guymer-Parker chose to steer away from the systematic nine to five and pursue their creativity.

Even though Dip is not directly linked to mental health or therapy, it’s something that does help us… now if I’m ever feeling down or anxious then it’s easy for me to pick up a pen and start drawing to take my mind away from it, and go into a trance.”

With the average age of onset depression at fourteen years old, it’s definitely time to take a closer look at art as an alternative to medication or conventional therapy.

Hannah expresses that she now has higher motivation, improved social engagement, and better self-esteem.

Art therapy allows you to facilitate a more positive and strong perspective of yourself, and allows better expression and understanding, in the lead of an all-round healthier state of living.

Although there are art therapy sessions available that are specifically tailored for people with mental health problems, there are suggested ways in which you can treat yourself which we have listed for you here, but you can keep your eyes on the Arts Sisterhood UK social media pages for more updates on their events.

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