How arts can help improve your mental health

25th Jun 2019
Challenging mental health inequalities

This content mentions loneliness or isolation, anxiety and depression, which some people may find triggering.

We are facing huge public health challenges in the UK. Mental ill-health accounts for more than 20% of these challenges, more than cancer and cardiovascular disease.1

As the number of people with long-term conditions increases, and with an ageing population who may experience high levels of physical inactivity and social isolation, innovative and effective treatments are needed, now more than ever!2

The arts seem to have an important role to play in this – through offering help, promoting well-being and creating a space for social connection.

We’ve looked at the added value of the arts and how they can keep us happy and in good mental health.

Being engaged in the arts

Do you recognise a feeling of joy that you can get when taking part in cultural activities such as music, museums, dance groups and theatre?

Getting involved with the arts can have powerful and lasting effects on health. It can help to protect against a range of mental health conditions, help manage mental ill-health and support recovery.3

There are many ways to engage in arts and improve your mental health:

  • Art and health programmes led by artists and musicians can deliver health benefits through participatory arts programmes and arts engagement in everyday life
  • When we talk about the arts, we include visual and performing arts, such as traditional craft, sculpture, digital art, text, dance, film, literature, music, singing, gardening and the culinary arts

Arts can make a powerful contribution to our mental health

Engaging in the arts seems to be growing in popularity as a way to improve your well-being. Participating in the arts can enable people to deal with a wide range of mental ill-health conditions and psychological distress.

The best part is that it helps people to improve their mental health through creativity. Making art is helping many people express themselves, without having to use words.4-5

Arts can create a feeling of community

The arts also help at a community level. As we age, we might face isolation through a loss of social connections, such as friends, family and workplace - as well as other limitations such as decreasing physical health.

Through getting involved in arts programmes, people in later life can rebuild their social connections and extend existing support in their communities. Getting in touch with others helps in alleviating loneliness and isolation. This is also true for care homes, where arts activities can help increase social interactions between residents and staff, which can improve mood and well-being.6

The arts' valuable role in mental health is being recognised

More and more people now appreciate that arts and culture can play a valuable role in helping people who have mental health problems.

As we’ve noted, engaging in the arts, social activities and interaction within our communities can help with major challenges, such as ageing and loneliness. It can help to boost confidence and make us feel more engaged and resilient. Besides these benefits, art engagement also alleviates anxiety, depression and stress.

The arts and health economics – it just makes sense

Since it can be used as a non-medical approach to preventing mental health problems, it could help save money in the health service and social care.

Making art can enable people to take greater responsibility for their own health and well-being, by helping maintain levels of independence and curiosity and improve the quality of life by bringing greater joy.7

If you feel affected by the content you have read, please see our get help page for support.

Further information

The MARCH Network

We have posted this blog that details the potential value of arts for mental health considering the new MARCH network.

The MARCH Network is one of 8 new national networks funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), as part of the 2018 Cross-Council Mental Health Plus call to further research into mental health. The Foundation is one of the collaborating partners in this network, which is led by Dr Daisy Fancourt (University College London).


  1. World Health Organisation. (2008). Global burden of disease report. Available at:…
  2. Thomson, L.J., Camic, P.M. & Chatterjee, H.J. (2015). Social Prescribing: A review of community referral schemes. London: University College London.
  3. Coulton, S., Clift, S., Skingley, A. & Rodriguez, J. Effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of community singing on mental health-related quality of life of older people: randomised controlled trial. Br. J. Psychiatry J. Ment. Sci. 207, 250–255 (2015
  4. Fancourt, D. et al. Effects of Group Drumming Interventions on Anxiety, Depression, Social Resilience and Inflammatory Immune Response among Mental Health Service Users. PLOS ONE 11, e0151136 (2016).
  5. Ockelford, A. Songs Without Words: Exploring How Music Can Serve as a Proxy Language in Social Interaction with Autistic Children. in Music, Health, and Wellbeing (eds. MacDonald, R., Kreutz, G. & Mitchell, L.) (OUP Oxford, 2012).
  6. Bungay, H. (2018). ‘How prescription creativity can improve mental and physical health’, Medical Xpress, 5 April [Online]. Available at:
  7. All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing. (2017). Creative Health: The Arts for Health and Wellbeing. Available at:

Related content

The Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival

One way that we support using the arts to improve mental health is through the annual Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival (SMHAF).

Now one of the largest festivals of its kind in the world, SMHAF brings together communities, artists and activists from all over Scotland to be creative and engage with arts events exploring mental health, including film, theatre, literature, visual arts, dance and comedy.

Find out more

Arts in Wales

We are developing a platform for arts and mental health in Wales, while working with organisations as Learning Partners to explore how the arts can be beneficial to them and their impact on mental health.

Our flagship event in Wales is the Green Ribbon Arts Festival, (GRAF) which was first staged in 2020 and 2021 as an online event during the pandemic.

Find out more

Was this content useful?