Art and Health

Art and Health

The beneficial use of the arts in health is a concept that has been around for many years and most of us will have some knowledge of Art Therapy and its success in the treatment of individuals with mental health disorders. However, it seems that there is more that art can offer to healthcare. There is a growing international movement called ‘The Arts in Healthcare’ whose purpose is to bring a whole range of arts such as painting, music, drama, dance, performance creative writing and comedy into many different healthcare settings. And it seems to be having a very positive effect.

Many health professionals believe that bringing the arts into medicine enhances the lives of patients and makes hospitals and clinical environments more comfortable for both staff and patients. In some hospitals programmes have been introduced where the creative arts have been used to complement medical treatments. It has often been said that laughter is the best medicine and US paediatrician John Graeme-Pole, poet and humorist is a living example of this. He uses ‘laughter and literature’ to promote patient wellness alongside more traditional treatments. He is one of the founders of the Arts in Medicine Programme at Shands Hospital in the US where they claim the creative arts play a role just as important as medication, chemotherapy and surgery.

Improving patient recuperation

Studies in the UK have shown that there are obvious improvements in clinical outcomes when creative arts programmes are introduced into healthcare. For example in the care of cancer patients it was shown that both art and music reduced depression and anxiety in patients undergoing chemotherapy treatment. Another study suggested that patients suffering from depression showed significant improvements when introduced to selected literature, compared to a control group who did not read during treatment. Participating in creative activities can also help people build self esteem which helps maintain good mental health and the achievement of making something of value can instil a feeling of pride which also promotes wellness.

Delivering information on health

Another function of art in healthcare is where it is used in the promotion of health issues and to raise awareness of specific illnesses. For example, the artwork in health awareness posters and leaflets and health related website art. This can be in the form of photography, illustration or even video art in health information videos. In some cases artwork can illustrate health problems that some patients find difficult to talk about such as sexual health problems. An example of this in action is an exhibition called ‘Heavy Words – Stories from the Cervix’ which featured works by artist and photographer Kamina Walton. Her works explored cervical cancer from both personal and clinical viewpoints. The intimate exhibition related a visually stunning narrative in which medical imagery was brought together with women’s personal experiences of living with cervical cancer.

So it is apparent that the arts play a significant role in healthcare, whether it is in the inspirational murals in hospitals, health promotion photography on posters or patients painting during art therapy sessions. The arts enrich all our lives and can also be a powerful influence in the healing process.