‘The medical profession has come a long way in recognizing the healing benefits of art. My hope is that someday the arts will be considered as significant in everyone’s lives as breathing fresh air, eating clean foods, and performing physical exercise.’
– Renée Phillips

Art for Wellbeing: The Evidence Base

By Dani Chak Educator

Sandra Raponi-Saunders Clinical Psychologist

Part l: The Impact of Art on Adult Health and Wellbeing


‘Art for Wellbeing’ is a series of online visual arts experiences that are calming, enjoyable, exploratory, sensory, actively engaging and expressive. Art Friends has designed these experiences based on the evidence that creative activity is beneficial for your health and wellbeing. The focus is on the creative process and the ‘self’ rather than an end product. The program is for all people of all ages in various physical and mental states.

Everyone is busy; sometimes too busy to take notice of the startling statistics on mental health and wellbeing. In Australia, over 75% of mental health problems occur before the age of 25, yet only 31% of young women and 13% of young men with mental health problems seek professional help. One in six Australians is currently experiencing depression or anxiety or both. A third of Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders experience high to very high levels of psychological distress (i.e., feeling depressed and anxious most of the time), and the migrant population also report that they suffer poor mental health (Beyond Blue, 2021).

Moreover, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) the recent pandemic has led to increases in mental health problems throughout the world (World Health Organisation, 2020) and, although the Australian economy is bouncing back, at present 24% of the population say they feel mental distress (which is the same as psychological distress). Just 45% of young people say they are coping well, compared to 81% when they were asked to think back to how they were coping in January 2020 (United Nations Children’s Fund UNIICEF, 2020). It is estimated that the mental health of one in five Australian children has been impacted by the pandemic (Queensland Health, 2020). We cannot assume to know how adults and children who are affected by mental illness and/or changes in circumstances might be feeling, but we can offer some support and relief through art.

Clinical and pharmacological interventions are known treatments for improving mental health and wellbeing issues. However, there is a growing interest in another type of intervention – creative intervention. It is by no means a replacement for biomedical treatments but rather an adjunct to existing services. The efficacy of art therapy with a trained therapist has long been established, but here we are talking about engaging in ordinary arts and crafts activities for pleasure and for their therapeutic value. Another way to think of it is creativity-as-therapy. A growing body of evidence supports creativity, physical exercise and socialization as effective interventions for health and wellbeing, and there is even a term for it – ‘social prescribing’ (Woodley, 2020; Zurynski, 2021).

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Regardless of ability level, ‘engaging in any sort of visual expression results in the reward pathways of the brain being activated, which means that you feel good, and it’s perceived as a pleasurable experience’, says Professor Girija Kaimal, of Drexel University and president of the American Art Therapy Association (Kaimal, 2019). Christianne Strang, professor of neuroscience at the University of Alabama Birmingham and the former president of the American Art Therapy Association, supports using art for health. She says, ‘Creativity in and of itself is important for remaining healthy, remaining connected to yourself and connected to the world.’ (Strang). For optimal health and wellbeing, artistic pursuits are a rich source of engagement for adults and children alike.

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