Could art help us fight for our mental health?
by Alice Alcaras
Depression and anxiety are unfortunately amongst the most popular mental illnesses around the world. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) about 300 million worldwide have some kind of depression. However, after the COVID-19 lockdown, the numbers have substantially increased (8.5% -> 27.8%). Lockdown has tested everyone’s mental health, however, discovering something we love - particularly art - can potentially save us.
The power of art.
Any type of art - whether it be dancing, painting, or sculpting for example - can be used as therapy to decrease stress and anxiety. Sculpting and the ability of making something from scratch using our hands has shown to have therapeutic values. Psychologists are still searching for better explanations for this amazing treatment; a main hypothesis is that creating something of our own improves our mental positivity.
In addition, this positive mental effect could simply be connected to the act of moving our hands in a certain manner. Studies have been conducted with children handling playdough and with adults who have jobs that comports the use of their hands in a specific way constantly e.g. bakers, that show this effect.
Another factor could be that having the ability to model and change an object by ourselves and how we want gives us that freedom and sense of liberty that we need, especially when we are feeling restricted in our homes. The same goes for painting, and not only the actual act of painting has been shown to affect us positively, but even just imagining painting or drawing something can have immediate positive changes in our mood and act as a way of stress release. In other words, the ability to choose what to paint from the smallest details, allows us to relax and takes us on a creativity - and helpful - journey. Further research has also demonstrated that even just imagining of painting a picture can act as tranquilizer and change our mood, making us see things from a different perspective.
Singing and dancing also have amazing effects on mental health. It is very common in all cultures and countries to use dancing and singing as a way to express feelings and let out emotions which are so deep inside of us. They are a way of relaxing and letting go; they are a way to release tension, everyday problems, and allow our minds to wander somewhere else, even if it’s just for a few minutes. However, is it all positive?
Yes, research has been done in this field to prove that art helps with depression and other forms of stress. However, these studies and results need to be replicated in order to obtain more reliable results that can be generalized to the larger public.
Studies have been conducted in hospitals and clinics, however not much has been researched about art’s effects on people in the “real world”. In addition, we need to take into account that not everyone may feel creative and want to express their ideas through art.
Some studies have shown that art does not always have such strong effects on patients, and it is not a complete cure for depression. Medical treatment is always needed alongside this creative method of expression. Some research has demonstrated that art has not shown any improvement in patients, or have even caused a worsening of symptoms in a few. However, this would be for very extreme and rare cases when the patient was suffering from an advanced level of depression and therefore would not be able to manage to complete the task.
Or, some people might just prefer other methods for distraction and relaxation.
The balanced view.
Art is everything and nothing at once. What art might be for one person, might not be the same for someone else.
There are also many forms of art from painting nails to building legos. No one can judge what someone considers art, which is what is so amazing about this creative form. Maybe this is exactly the reason why art can be our saviour. It could help us not only for therapeutic uses, but in everyday life. Because knowing that no one can judge something that is only yours, that you made and that only you can understand, art can give us that sense of freedom.
When imagining painting or drawing something, the power is doubled. We have the ability to create and disrupt something all at once in our heads with art. We can prove to ourselves that, yes, our minds can do something so amazing and so beneficial for ourselves with art.
And, if a specific form of art does not seem to be the right fit for you then try cooking. Try building or architecture. Or, even try to make music. If we could dedicate even 5 minutes of our time everyday to just imagine or make some form of art, then our mental health could improve, even if it is just slightly, step by step.