Hi, this is Daisy. I’m the Research Lead for Breathe Arts Health Research as well as a researcher in the Centre for Performance Science, a joint centre between the Faculty of Medicine at Imperial College, London and the Royal College of Music. I wanted to share some thoughts on mental health and the role the arts can play.

Mental health has really come to public attention over the last few years. Although an estimated 38% of the EU population suffer from a mental health disorder, the topic has, for a long time, been rather concealed and something many people feel embarrassed talking about. However, with the help of some fantastic campaigns, such as Time to Change’ which aims to challenge stigma and discrimination, the topic is gradually becoming much more open.

But mental health is now recognised to be much more than the presence or absence of symptoms of specific disorders. One of the dominant psychological views currently is that mental wellbeing exists as a separate continuum to mental health: even if somebody has no evidence of a specific mental health disorder, they may have low wellbeing. Wellbeing is no small concern either. Indeed, the World Health Organisation now defines health as “a complete state of physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”.

At Breathe, we enjoy providing arts programmes for a wide range of people. Our aim is always that anyone, regardless of whether they have a specific mental or physical health condition or not, may take some enjoyment and pleasure from being involved and we might help to support their wellbeing. For example, previous research on our Breathe Magic Intensive Therapy Programme has demonstrated its effects on hand function for children affected by hemiplegia. But over the years we have also seen how this impacts on the young people’s confidence, mental health and emotional wellbeing. We have already collected a lot of anecdotal evidence and will now push the boundaries further. This means that over the next year we will undertake more research to quantify the programme’s psychosocial impact on children and their families.

One of the most famous wellbeing models by the American psychologist Martin Seligman suggests that there are five ways to wellbeing: Positive emotions (including happiness and life satisfaction), Engagement (complete immersion in an activity), Relationships (being cared for and valued), Meaning (feeling life has a significance and one belongs to something larger than the self), and Accomplishment (achievement and mastery). The arts offer a wonderful way to fulfil all five of these facets of wellbeing and have been shown in a wide range of studies to affect both ‘hedonic’ wellbeing (such as positive mood and pleasure) and ‘eudaemonic’ wellbeing (such as supportive relationships, personal growth, a purpose in life and fulfilment of potential). And it’s this holistic approach to research in healthcare where our commitment lies, too.