Arts and Health: How Art Courses Can Help Primary Care Patients

The notion of treatment goes far beyond taking pills and undergoing surgeries: it is the mental wellbeing that should also be improved in any patient. However, this aspect of treatment is often neglected when healthcare budget is being drawn up. A new research corroborates the theory that overall wellbeing of patients can be improved significantly by means of engaging in creative activities.

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Art is often considered to be something that can be beneficial, but it’s a thing that is not necessary when treatment is concerned – it’s regarded as more of a luxury, and for this reason it is rarely featured in healthcare budgets. Surgeries and medications are extremely expensive, and the government does not have resources for what is “just another way to spend time”.

However, it appears that art courses are not a waste of the society’s money: on the contrary, according to a new research, it can help save in the long term.

Significant improvement

A team of scientists from the University of Gloucestershire has recently revealed that arts-on-prescription is an approach that can help improve overall wellbeing to a significant extent, even in those suffering from multiple diseases.

In this study, they evaluated data about 1,300 patients who required primary care. All of them were from South West England. These patients were prescribed arts activities, including a wide range of courses, such as playwright and drawing. The researchers have been following the cohort for 7 years, and according to their findings, the patients benefited from art courses a lot: their overall wellbeing improved, and the initiative was welcomed by all who were involved, including both the patients and those local artists who were working with them. The study was carried out with the help of Artlift, a charity specializing in providing art courses for patients who require primary care.

Social prescribing

Non-medical intervention is an important part of treatment, as health is affected not only by how the body is treated, but also what conditions the person is in, i.e. whether they are alone, have a sense of purpose, etc. These factors affect the outcome enormously. Such provision of non-medical intervention is called social prescribing and implies engagement in activities aimed at helping a primary care patient overcome depression or anxiety, and, at least in some cases, increase confidence and the patient’s self-esteem.

Arts-on-prescription and art therapy are not the same: the former implies wider choice, since the patient is offered painting classes, drawing classes, playwright, and mosaics. It differs from art therapy in the way it is organized: such art courses are community-based; they are not “designed for patients with specific needs”. Instead, they provide anonymity, as no one in the group knows why other participants are there, what diagnosis they have, etc. This approach helps avoid uneasiness associated with the seeming ignorance of the diagnosis, so classes become more interesting and relaxing.

The researchers hope that the evidence the study provided will contribute to integration of such courses into standard treatment schemes. The findings suggest eight-week courses are even more effective than ten-week ones, and the benefits they bring can help save money in the long-term: if the overall wellbeing improves, less money is needed for medications. The research supports the idea that being creative can affect mood and even health.

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