Last summer, we collaborated with Merthyr Tydfil College and artist Bill Taylor-Beales to help students and staff express emotions creatively, in a safe and supportive environment through the Art + Soul project.
Participants of the project included members of the college’s student well-being support team and some of the students that they work with, who have lived experiences of poor mental health and autism, in a town that has considerable socio-economic inequalities.
Over the course of eight sessions in four weeks, participants were provided with arts materials and shown how to create with a variety of techniques including sketching, printmaking, portraiture, stop motion animation and clay work.
The arts can be good for our mental health because they provide people with the opportunity to explore their feelings and emotions creatively. Art can also enable people to have conversations about mental health in a way that other experiences and activities can’t. Artistic projects can provide opportunities for people to socialise, helping them to overcome isolation and loneliness.
The group bonded quickly, especially as they were able to hold the sessions in person, and experienced multiple benefits.
"I enjoyed exploring how to draw and express emotions to show how we are feeling. If I was not doing this, I wouldn’t have got out of bed."
- Chase, student
"It taught me not to go hard on myself – not to stress out. I struggle with depression, so being able to show people how it feels through the artwork was really helpful."
- Nikola, student
"I am more myself when I am doing something creative and engaging with someone. Being in the sessions made me feel better and put me in a better mood."
- Cori, student
"It was very cool to look at emotions this way. We are all learning and growing and not fully understanding ourselves. Knowing our emotions and others help us manage them. This is very useful for young people – especially our age."
- Chaos, student
Rosy Lewis, Mental Health Officer at Merthyr Tydfil College, said:
"During the sessions, we explored lots of questions that we could not do in other situations… and it helped us to form better relationships with the students. Expressing yourself through art does not have to be complicated, you do not need any artistic competence to be able to engage in the session and explore your emotional expression through art practice. It’s about looking after your own mental health but doing it together."
How arts can help improve your mental health
We’ve looked at the added value of the arts and how they can keep us happy and in good mental health.
Top tips: looking after your mental health with creativity
Roshane shares how creativity helped him to express his emotions, and a list of creative activities to help you with your own mental health.