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Is mental wellbeing linked to arts engagement?

Dr Christina Davies discusses the findings from her recent paper The Art of being Mentally Healthy

Do you relax by playing a musical instrument, reading a novel, singing or painting? Have your mind and body ‘worked out’ while dancing? Do you delight in a good concert, play, movie or exhibition? Stop and think about how these behaviours affect your mental wellbeing. With an emphasis on enjoyment, relaxation, social inclusion and the ability to improve resilience, confidence and self-esteem, an arts-mental health paradigm has the potential to deliver major public health benefits. 

The Art of Being Mentally Healthy was recently published in BMC Public Health. The award-winning study is the first internationally to quantify the arts-mental health relationship and provides evidence of an association between mental wellbeing and 2 hours per week of arts engagement in the general population. 

For the purpose of the study, ‘Arts engagement’ was defined as the art people do as part of their everyday lives for enjoyment, entertainment or as a hobby (i.e. recreational arts rather than art therapy).

A random sample of 702 Western Australian adults aged 18+ years were invited to take part in the study via telephone survey (response= 71%). The survey took 15 minutes to complete and included questions about mental well-being and arts engagement over the previous 12 months.

After adjustment for age, gender, location, income, education, marital status, children, general health, sports engagement, religious activities and holidays, results showed that:

  • people with 100 or more hours per year of arts engagement (i.e. at least 2hrs per week) had significantly better mental wellbeing than those with none or lower levels of engagement. 
  • The relationship between arts engagement and mental wellbeing was nonlinear with evidence of a minimum threshold at 100 or more hours per year (i.e. at least 2hrs/week).

This is the first study to quantify the relationship between recreational arts engagement and mental health in a general population.  

The quantification of the arts-mental health is relationship is of value to:

  1. artists, health professionals, clinicians and researchers interested in utilising the arts as a method for improving mental health in the general population; 
  2. artists, health promoters, policy makers, arts organisations and health organisations in the development of population based health messages, policy and practice; and
  3. members of the general public in maintaining or improving their own wellbeing.

Arts activities and events have the potential to contribute to health promotion strategies and have implications for innovative public health policy and practice. 

A copy of the published paper can be found at http://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12889-015-2672-7

This study was funded via a Department of Health WA Future Health Fellowship, Healthway Research Training Scholarship (#21356) and Healthway Research Starter Grant (#18918). 

 

Christina DaviesDr Christina Davies (@DrCDavies, christina.davies@uwa.edu.au) is a Research Fellow at the School of Population Health, The University of Western Australia. Her multi-award winning research relates to the fields of ‘arts and health’, mental health and health promotion evaluation. Christina has worked in both academic and market research settings. She has experience in both qualitative and quantitative research techniques and qualifications in public health, psychology and the arts. Christina is also a passionate visual artist with interests in painting and photography. 

 


All images courtesy Christina Davies.

 

 

 

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