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How arts engagement can aid your mental health

We’re joining Mind, Rethink Mental Illness and Co-op in taking part in Time To Talk 2022, a day for friends, families, communities, and workplaces come together to talk, listen and to change lives.

One in 4 of us will experience a mental health problem in any given year.

That’s why, in the spirit of Time To Talk, Unforgettable Experiences are sharing how engaging in arts and creative pursuits can help to boost confidence, increase quality of life and help to continue the conversation surrounding mental health and wellbeing. We firmly believe that talking about mental health reduces stigma, helping to create supportive communities where we can talk openly about mental health and feel empowered to seek help when we need it.

It would be an understatement to say the last two years living through COVID-19 have been difficult. The pandemic has, invariably, had a detrimental impact on mental health, as well as lasting traumatic impact for many. Results from the landmark Mental Health in the Pandemic study show that the crisis has had extensive emotional impacts on adults in the UK.

Even though the study recorded fewer adults to be feeling anxious about the pandemic in March 2021, Dr Antonis Kousoulis, Director for England and Wales at the Mental Health Foundation said: “more of us now feel lonely and ground down by the stress of the past year.”

In spite of this, more time spent both indoors and isolated has led to a resurgence in people adopting creative pursuits. For example, creative writing processes – or expressive writing – can encourage us to communicate our internal anxieties and external stressors in different, and even radical, configurations.

Dr James W. Pennebaker for Harvard Health Publishing reaffirms that the “act of thinking about an experience, as well as expressing emotions” is an important factor in coping with stress and trauma. According to Pennebaker: “writing helps people to organise thoughts and give meaning to a traumatic experience.”

In the same way as keeping a journal, removing the intrusive thoughts that enter the mind and depositing them onto the page has an ability to alleviate the more cloudy areas of our brains and in turn creates space for us to cognise more effectively. Similarly, Bernard – one of our service users – has found an increase in his confidence and quality of life after participating in weekly visual arts classes. Bernard, a retired art teacher himself, told us:

“When I first joined in with Unforgettable Experiences, I felt a bit mixed-up and I was sceptical about whether it was going to work for me. But by the second class, it started to give me a meaning to my life.”

“My teacher, Pui, was very helpful and made me feel as though I was dealing with the art at the same time as she was dealing with me and listening to what I needed and how I was feeling. This really helped me feel more confident in myself and I started looking forward to showing the class pieces of art that I was producing every week.”

“At the end of my sessions, the classes had become a lifeline for me.”

Last year, The Independent ,found that more than a third of 2000 adults have taken up a new activity since the beginning of the pandemic, citing the majority of cases to have chosen a creative practice that is synonymous with boosting mindfulness and mental wellbeing.

The poll discovered 77 per cent of adults felt an increasing need to keep their minds busy while spending more time at home or isolated from others. Many creative practices such as engaging in music, visual arts, writing, sewing, painting – even repurposing an old object for better use or learning a dance routine – can function as subtle ways to relieve tension; allowing for something different to focus our attention towards for an extended period of time.

The term practice makes perfect springs to mind here, when thinking about the beneficial impacts that a ritualised, creative activity can have on improving our quality of life. Not only that, but joining others in artistic pursuits can offer a less intimidating outlet for those who struggle to otherwise communicate about their mental health and wellbeing.

That’s why opening up the conversation about mental health problems is so important – by talking about it we can support ourselves and others, and help to remove the stigma in the process.

For more information on how you can participate in #TimeToTalk2022, visit https://timetotalkday.co.uk/about/

To refer yourself or someone you love to our creative sessions today, please see https://www.unforgettableexperiences.org.uk/get-started

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