For many years now, people have talked about how creativity can help to ease symptoms of mental illness. Although this has been shown through people reporting the effects, it is difficult to show direct effects for large groups of people. It has however been found that engaging in creative activities such as music and visual arts, can help other therapies to be more effective. So, not only do people say creativity has helped them to manage their mental health, but science has also shown it to be effective!
As children, most of us enjoy being creative, through art, music, drama, and writing, but as we get older, we can become disconnected from these things. Part of this falls with being graded or judged on our efforts, either by our peers or at school. We can lose the joy in the process of being creative and become focused on the outcome. If you relate to this then just sitting down and drawing, or going to a drama class may not help. It’s important to remember that the process can be fun and relaxing, regardless of what we end up with.
In some areas of society, people with mental illness are expected to be creative or to somehow be creative geniuses, but that doesn’t have to be the case. You do not have to create something to show others, nor does everything you do have to be perfect. Try to focus on finding something you enjoy doing, and enjoying it, rather than the product. This will allow you to get the benefits of being creative, without the stress and anxiety that can come with being judged by others.
In an article for Rethink Mental Illness, Laura May writes about how creativity helps her with her mental wellbeing. Laura has a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder and loves to paint and draw. Whilst she admits that she needs to be in the right mood to create, it’s something that helps her. Like many other people, she finds that always having a notepad on hand to channel her thoughts into, positive or negative, she can help relieve her feelings by putting them on paper. Another thing Laura discusses is the importance of trying new things. Finding new ways to be creative, or enjoying a new activity with friends can open new experiences.
So what can you do?
Many of us love to draw or paint, but art encompasses much more than two things. You could also try collage, sewing, photography, and more. It may be that your school offers extracurriculars, but you may also be able to find local courses or projects, such as Snap and Stroll, based at Bath College. Snap and Stroll is a creative group, using photography to help those with anxiety, depression and other mental health charities to find friendships and explore their surroundings. People participating in the project have said that it has helped them to view things differently. You don’t only have to channel your feelings onto paper, projects like this can also help you to look at things differently.
Theatre is a place where many people feel they can escape. Whether they are on stage acting as a character, or watching a story played out, it can be a wonderful source of creativity. Not only can you act or watch, but there are roles backstage such as costume and lighting that can help you learn new creative skills, without being on stage. Again, you could not only join groups at school but local youth theatres. Lewisham Youth Theatre, for example, has been running projects for young people since 1987 and has recently had a big review. This showed that young people felt that whilst they enjoyed the shows, and creating a production, they also gained skills in confidence and leadership that they took forward with them. Projects like this exist in many different communities, and can not only help manage your mental health but learn new skills to take into later life.
Most of us enjoy listening to music, and many also enjoy creating music. It has been found that music can affect dopamine release, which has a big effect on our mental health. Many people with mental health problems find that music therapy helps them to relax and manage their feelings.
Writing can be anything from a journal to poetry, to novels. Some people find that writing about how they feel, or what has happened can help relieve negative feelings. You may also feel that writing stories could help to focus on other feelings or ideas. It’s often recommended for people who are stressed or cannot sleep, write down their thoughts or worries because putting them down on paper can offer huge relief.
What is most important in using creativity to support your mental health, is to find something that works for you. Find something that you enjoy, and get creating. It doesn’t matter if you never show anyone, only show your friends, or put things on display for the world to see, what matters is finding something that feels right for you.
Next time, we’ll be exploring how getting active can help you to look after your mental health.
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