Blog post written by Claire Carswell (PhD Student, Queen's University Belfast) On Wednesday the 7th of November the Arts Health ECRN hosted an online twitter chat to mark the launch of the MARCH Network, a network focused on using the arts and cultural engagement within communities to promote mental health and wellbeing. The chat involved users tweeting with the hashtag #NetworkMARCH.
The chat started with the Arts Health ECRN account (@ArtsHealthECRN) inviting people to describe the arts and mental health projects that they are currently working on, or any research that they were aware of that was important and should be shared. This question elicited a number of different responses that revealed the wide variety of work being undertaken across the United Kingdom. The projects described included both research and practice, and included creative ageing research for older people, research exploring ‘in the moment’ benefits of music for people who were living with dementia, the Choir Note project that explored how choral singing can improve psychological wellbeing in young people, a feasibility study looking at the impact of participatory arts-based interventions on the mental health of patients receiving haemodialysis, ‘Sensory peace’ a collaborative project exploring the use of creativity to address mental health needs in conflict and post-conflict environments, and a project looking at using arts to reduce suicide risk in at risk men. Participants in the chat also discussed different forms of research methodology being used in these projects, with a variety of methodological approaches being highlighted from pilot trials and case studies to people expressing interest in creative methods, such as video methods, being used within arts-based research.
The Arts Health ECRN account then invited people to describe what type of mental health benefits people had found from their research and practice, or what they expected to find. It was apparent that most of the research currently being undertaken is still in the early stages, although @RobynDowlen was able to share her publication of a systematic literature review that explored the personal benefits of musicking for people living with dementia. The preliminary, and anticipated, results of the other current research being undertaken included benefits to mental health from arts and cultural engagement such as a reduction in anxiety, reduction in suicide risk, positive experiences of intergenerational approaches to the arts, and the inherent benefit of being an active and creative contributor to the arts. The types of art being used within the projects was also discussed, with participants describing experiences using music, singing, painting, sketching, and creative writing, both in participatory forms and passive engagement.
One particularly interesting discussion that took place during the chat was feedback from people who had personal experiences of using arts and cultural engagement for their own mental health. One twitter user, @The_Debs_Effect recognized the role of an arts course in their own life, stating “It transformed my life and has sent me to places I could only ever dream of before”. Another twitter user @MarkOneInFour raised the issue that the arts may have an ‘inherent risk’, highlighting a talk given in Scotland last year entitled Mental health is too important to get wrong: writers and mental health. This highlighted the overly ‘positive’ lens which is sometimes attributed to the arts, with little research into the potential limitations of arts and health programmes as well as the benefits.
The next question centred around where people felt further evaluation and research was needed in the field of arts and cultural or community engagement for mental health. Some of the chat’s participants identified the need for rigorous trial methodology to evaluate interventions, such as social prescribing and participatory arts-based interventions, to establish clinical significance and economic impact. In addition, exploration of citizenship discourses was identified as an under-studied area. It was suggested further exploration would illustrate how arts could benefit people with mental health issues on a larger scale, such as through their connection to their community and larger society, and how arts and community engagement could be used to reduce stigma and promote inclusion and social identity.
The chat closed with the final question relating to participants’ personal experiences of arts and cultural or community engagement, and what they enjoyed engaging with in their own personal time. There was a variety of responses with some people describing their enjoyment of participatory visual arts, such as sketching and photography. A number of participants also highlighted their interest in attending cultural events or using community resources, such as museums, art exhibitions and live musical concerts. It was apparent from the conversation that the participants were enthusiastic about arts and cultural engagement in their own time, and that they could see benefits within their own day-to-day life.
If you are interested in reading the full twitter chat the members tweeted using the hashtag #NetworkMARCH, so you will be able to find the whole discussion available on twitter. If you are interested in joining the MARCH Network please fill out the survey here to receive updates and opportunities for involvement, and follow the MARCH Network twitter page @NetworkMARCH. Be sure to regularly visit our website so that you can be the first to know when events are announced. If you are interested in becoming a regional representative, you can also apply here.
Thanks so much to Claire for taking the time to write this wonderful blog post. If you are interested in writing a blog post or reviewing an arts and health book for the AHECRN blog feel free to get in touch (Robyn Dowlen - Blog Editor).