Edge Hill University

Arts for the Blues: Towards integrating the use of the arts in healthcare and cultural settings to tackle depression and improve wellbeing in the NW

Published on by Vicky Karkou

In this project we developed a strategy for making the Arts for the Blues intervention easily available to adults and children struggling with depression, low mood or anxiety. This group therapy uses visual arts, music, dance, drama and creative writing to address psychological difficulties and strengthen resources for managing them. Participants are encouraged to actively engage with simple arts-making activities with a clear therapeutic intent. These activities may include: breathing exercises to manage anxiety, free writing to support self-expression; mirroring tasks to develop relationships, use of objects to share difficult stories, engagement in rhythmical connections to address isolation (see www.artsfortheblues.com for further details on the intervention and relevant audio-visual material).

Evidence suggests that arts-based interventions are more accessible and attractive for people who find it difficult to talk about their problems or who are seeking an alternative to talking therapies. This could include adults and children from diverse backgrounds, refugees and migrant communities, and those struggling with loneliness and isolation. The Arts for the Blues intervention was first developed to address mental health concerns in inner city neighbourhoods in Manchester and has since been successfully piloted in charities and schools in the North West of England, an area faced with longstanding health inequalities. Participants in the arts-based groups showed marked psychological outcomes including lower scores of depression and anxiety and improved wellbeing, life functioning and social communication.

In this project we therefore asked the question:

How can the Arts for the Blues intervention be scaled up for integration within healthcare and cultural organisations to tackle depression and improve wellbeing in communities across the North West of England?

In order to answer this question, we brought together artists, health professionals, existing networks and partnerships in three events in order to co-create a strategy for making the intervention readily available across the region. We also offered workshops, focus groups and training to at least one healthcare and one cultural organisation.

Throughout the process we worked alongside our Patient and Public Involvement (PPI) group to ensure our target beneficiaries had a voice. The group included people using psychological services who have attended Arts for the Blues groups and was expanded to include PPI members from project partners.

Methodologically, we adopted a realist evaluation approach which allowed us to develop a strategy that is scalable, sustainable, aligned with systems thinking and promises to offer solutions to long-standing health inequalities in the region and beyond.

Over the lifetime of the project, we also produced an online toolkit to include case examples and training materials, a film with the main findings and user testimonies, and a plan for the integration of this creative form of therapy in different settings. These can be found on the Arts for the Blues project website.

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Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)