Mental health and well-being guidance

3Rs Webinar – Life After Lockdown: Support Notes for Art and Design, Mental Health and Wellbeing – Part 1

“the evidence suggests that engagement with the arts can improve a person’s physical and mental well-being. The benefits of arts activities are being seen beyond traditional settings, and their role in supporting communities and individuals who would otherwise be excluded is increasingly being recognised.” Arts, Health and Well-being. 2018 Welsh NHS Confederation

Mental health and well-being guidance

How can children and teens manage anxiety in uncertain times?
The mental health of young people is of concern at the present time and particularly so during a pandemic and when children may be unsure about the security of the future and likelihood of change. There are plenty of examples online of short actions or projects that parents and teachers can use to help address anxiety and to help manage mental wellbeing. The evidence within the documents listed on the following pages explore similar principles, that of creative engagement, participation and physical engagement (making). Some of the examples you can find online are designed to help manage thinking and anxiety directly, whilst others are designed to promote creative engagement with art materials, processes and techniques, to document ideas and give substance and image or physical form to thoughts and troubling worries. For example:

A note of warning!

Please be aware, much of the materials found online are American in origin and refer to

‘Art Therapy’ or they suggest creative activities are a form of art therapy. The arts all significant areas of therapeutic activity, Art therapy, Music therapy, Singing for the Brain, Drama therapy etc. many of these are highly specialised therapeutic activities or activities that promote valuable therapies for adults and those with particular conditions such as dementia, or they may form part of a treatment.

Art Therapy is an area of highly specialist activity that should only be conducted by those with a masters level specialist qualification and suitable clinical experience. It is NOT something that teachers can undertake, or even those with therapy or counselling experience. Teachers can of course run art interventions that enable young people to participate and engage with creative activity, but this in not therapy.

Teachers can participate with Art Therapists or suitably trained individuals, who can work with schools to develop programmes of support, or train teachers to run suitable activities. The British Association of Art Therapists are the lead national organisation for Art Therapy and run CPD courses or offer bespoke courses for schools and teachers.

For example, on the website BAAT they state the following:

Art therapy is a form of psychotherapy that uses art media as its primary mode of expression and communication. Within this context, art is not used as diagnostic tool but as a medium to address emotional issues which may be confusing and distressing.

Art therapists work with children, young people, adults and the elderly. Clients may have a wide range of difficulties, disabilities or diagnoses. These include emotional, behavioural or mental health problems, learning or physical disabilities, life-limiting conditions, neurological conditions and physical illnesses. Art therapy is provided in groups or individually, depending on clients’ needs. It is not a recreational activity or an art lesson, although the sessions can be enjoyable.

BAAT offer a course for teachers in education, entitled: ARTiculate for staff in Education – Online. This is an online course for 3 days.

How can we proactively support student mental health?
The Anna Freud Centre is a national leader in developing materials and guidance on mental health and wellbeing for young people and those in education. They have produced guidance for schools and colleges in the form of a Toolkit for mental health and wellbeing. The link to the Toolkit can be found in the resources on the following pages. They have also created a website of resources called Mentally Healthy Schools. Click here to get the toolkit.

And how can we change the future of teaching, to put empathy and wellbeing front and centre?

An empathetic teacher is an actively listening teacher, giving full attention and listening to both a student’s words and tone of voice.

They should give each student a framework to build on, in which all their thoughts, opinions, feelings, and differences are uplifted. Teachers cannot expect to have an impact on intellectual development without first becoming involved in their students’ emotional development.

Daniel Goleman and Paul Ekman have identified 3 components of empathy:

Cognative,Emotional and Compassionate

Below are 5 useful links to guidance and projects implementing wellbeing .

What are the restorative effects of practising art, to enable better stress management – and the evidence base behind this

The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the other reports detailed on the following pages, provide access to the international research and some guidance on these issues.

How you can easily integrate art into your teaching – and how this can immediately benefit your students’ wellbeing?

This question raises further questions about the breadth, depth and quality of yourschool’s art and design curriculum and the curriculum of the other art forms. It also brings into question the values and ethos of the school and whether the arts are seen as important, are valued and whether pupils of all abilities are able to participate fully and choose to study an arts qualification if they wish.

If successful students are being encouraged away from the arts, because there is a view that arts qualifications are less worthy or may hamper a students future Universityapplication, then there may be a problem. Ofsted are aware that some schools consciously devalue the study of arts subjects to examination level and are seeking evidence of this in the ongoing programmes of inspection. Ofsted HMI have previously published useful guidance and analysis of inspection reports detailing the correlation between outstanding schools and the quality of arts provision in a school. For example:

  • Learning: creative approaches that raise standards Ofsted 2010
  • Expecting the unexpected – developing creativity in primary and secondary schools HMI
  • Drawing together: art, craft and design in schools Ofsted 2005
  • Making a mark: art, craft and design education Ofsted 2008
  • The Cultural Learning Alliance carried out research into the Arts, Health and Wellbeing in 2018. The act of making art (visual or performance) develops young people’s sense of identity and self-efficacy and increases children and young people’s resilience (Catteral & Peppler 2007, Merrell & Tymms 2002, Schellenberg, et al. 2015), a key component of good mental health. ‘The arts take us to another world where we can explore our thoughts and feelings free of fear of stigma or judgement. They help children and young people to express things that they sometimes cannot say in conversation, and to celebrate feelings and thoughts that previously troubled them. The creative process can also be a curative process.’ Professor Peter Fonagy, CEO, Anna Freud Centre.

DCMSChanging Lives: the social impact of participation in culture and sport

The RSA have set out 3 simple conclusions as a consequence of their Arts-rich schools report. These are:

  1. Arts specialists: each of the schools placed a premium on specialist staff.
  2. Dedicated spaces: dedicated arts spaces played a central role in the schools’arts offers.
  3. Partners and volunteers: most of the schools drew on expertise and supportfrom external partners.

Why are artists able to manage the pandemic with such good mental health? Why is art good for mental health and well-being?

Bring creative is a cognitive activity, developing an enquiring, flexible and lively mind.

Artists are more creatively purposeful. They are focussed on creating original ideas, investigating opportunities and experimenting with media to design and make.

Their flexible approach to thinking enables artists to adapt and find creative solutions, solve problems, innovate and explore alternative ways to create and make work. Being less tied to convention gives them space to find alternative ways of creating and making a living.

Engaging with physical materials, media, techniques and processes is deeply absorbing, energising, productive and outcome focused. The act of making is so absorbing that artists get into the flow of creativity, sometimes losing themselves in the act.
Losing a sense of time, reduces anxiety, boosts mood and can even slow the heart rate.

The brain, hand, eye interaction is engrossing and deeply satisfying because being a maker is profoundly personal. Making is physically, mentally and spiritually rewarding and of course, productive. Such action is similar to meditation, it is calming, reduces

stress and anxiety, which in turn can boost

Producing creative outcomes is a positive or life affirming and optimistic experience. This makes it satisfying and highly enjoyable, all of which releases dopamine, making artists feel good about the process and the outcome. I

Art is about problem solving, creating, envisaging, imagining, speculating, visioning, realising, investigating, exploring, experimenting and making. All of which, are extremely positive actions. They generally create optimistic intentions and lead to positive outcomes.

Visual and tactile senses are our primary sense for learning and interacting with the world. Looking at, thinking about and engaging with art, craft and design is stimulating, idea forming and motivating. This is because it makes connections between disparate ideas and across every world topic or body of knowledge. Artists make art about anything, whether it is science, religion, society, culture, history, which inspire abstract or conceptual ideas, or a construct of the imagination. This just means artists can pursue ideas about whatever takes their interest, that motivates or excites them – how great is that?

All of this helps them to manage positive or negative emotions, express excitement or trauma and process experiences, turning them into creative manifestations of their lived experience.

Developing skills is rewarding to artists because they improve coordination and control, refining their technique, which further informs the sophistication and quality of their work and can in turn result in pride, self-esteem and increases confidence.

Success leads to being purposefully driven and completely engaged in the development of ideas and the making of new outcomes. Feedback and praise is deeply rewarding, which brings kudos, a sense of achievement, pride and success resulting in happiness.

How is any of this, anything but positive, optimistic, exciting and deeply rewarding?

Ged Gast – Guidance on mental health and wellbeing for 3Rs Webinar 2021

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