Can Art Help Improve Mental Health?

An article by Jane Sandwood, Therapist/Freelance writer

The Subtle Effect That Art Can Have On Improving Mental Health

Artistic expression isn't completely understood, but one thing science agrees on is that art can express and alleviate mental health problems in unique ways. It can serve as a form of expression and a pastime, leading young practitioners away from vices. It can help doctors and care practitioners to connect with their patients, and find common ground to work from. And art can improve mood and condition, possibly healing its appreciators in the process.

A Healthier Way To Engage The Mind

Art is about both those who create it, and those who experience it. Art clubs and organizations focused on teaching young people to create in their downtime have existed for centuries. Studies suggest that youth who engage in expressions of art and creation in their downtime are less likely to turn to harmful methods of recreation. They are more likely to avoid abusive substances like alcohol, which are proven to increase the chance of depression and other mental illnesses.

Helps Improve Empathy And Social Connection

It's about more than preventing mental illness though. For those observing a work of art, the most common feeling is empathy, and an attempt to understand the emotions of the one who created it. To that end, science suggests that those who enjoy art are likely to be less confrontational and behave in a more social and friendly manner. Even disconcerting art can provide catharsis, allowing us to express painful emotions without causing each other harm.

Studying Mental Illness

And this latter part is one that's recently been studied in medicine for a multitude of reasons. Psychologists have used art as a means to study mental illness. They ask willing participants to view and scrutinize a variety of artworks, to understand what can cause them joy or discomfort. Others have asked their patients to practice painting or creating based on their traumatic experiences, as a way to look at the feelings or thoughts of the afflicted person.

All In All

Our mental health is affected by every facet of art, from the creation process to how we receive it. Many people use art to express thoughts or illnesses they can’t put into words, and doctors use that to understand where one’s mind is at. It also serves as a form of expression, which can help improve mental health and give people a positive outlet to turn to. And it improves empathy and connection on a mental level, reducing risk of depression while helping us all come together.