Mental Health

Mental Health is one of three regional priorities identified in our

Strategic Framework for Arts, Health and Wellbeing in the south west.

The other regional priorities are Loneliness and Social Prescribing.

In the UK in recent years, mental health awareness has rapidly increased, due largely to high profile media campaigns. Policy is also becoming more optimistic and emphasis is now upon public mental health across the life course:

  • mental health promotion
  • prevention of mental health problems and suicide prevention
  • improving lives, supporting recovery and inclusion of people living with mental health problems

For more information see the NHS Five Year Forward View for Mental Health.

The UK Faculty of Public Health’s Better Mental Health for All describes the dual continuum model of mental health and wellbeing and sets out clear definitions which help to balance the medical model and its focus on illness and diagnosis.

The World Health Organization (WHO) states:

Mental health is not just the absence of mental disorder. It is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.

The WHO 2013-20 action plan recognises the essential role of mental health in achieving health for all people. It is based on a life-course approach, aims to achieve equity through universal health coverage and stresses the importance of prevention.

In the King’s Fund report: Outcomes for mental health services. What really matters? The authors say that when people are struggling with mental health difficulties:

“In moments of crisis, they turn to services not just for a diagnosis or for medical care, or support in developing resources and capabilities, but for sanctuary, to alleviate suffering, to help make sense of what has happened, to grieve, to recover voice, to rekindle hope, to address the stigma that comes with a mental health diagnosis, and perhaps many other important things besides.”

The Arts and Culture

A prevention approach refers to a range of themes: preventing mental illness and intervening early; supporting recovery; improving the lives of those with mental illness and promoting good mental health and wellbeing. The latter category is asset based and focusses on producing mental health or ‘feeling good and functioning well’. The contribution of the arts can be preventative and salutogenic, they can produce good mental health for individuals and populations. There is a wide range of arts and health work in this area.

The Creative Health report has many examples of practice and research relevant to mental health. In February 2019, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing held a round table on young people’s mental health and the arts. You can download the minutes here.

In 2018, the What Works Centre for Wellbeing published an evidence review on the impacts of visual arts on the wellbeing of adults with mental health issues. They say that:

Of particular interest for practitioners in the field, the review confirms the most effective ‘working ways to wellbeing’. Processes like ensuring provision of secure safe-space and havens for interventions; recognising the value of non-stigmatising settings; supporting and sustaining collaborative facilitation of programmes and sessions.

Arts Therapies have a long history of working with people with mental health difficulties. They are distinct from the broader field of arts and health and are registered with the Health and Care Professions Council.

You can find out more about Art Therapy from the British Association of Art Therapists, Dramatherapy from the British Association of Drama Therapists, and Music Therapy from the British Association for Music Therapy.

Dance Movement Psychotherapy is not registered with the Health and Care Professions Council, but is also a strong area of practice.

AHSW Projects

Arts & Health South West has delivered two projects relevant to this priority area:

Alternative Visions aimed to challenge and question perceptions of art in relation to people who feel excluded from the mainstream art world for reasons including health, disability, social circumstance or isolation. It was a partnership project with Outside In and Bristol Culture and the exhibition toured to Bristol Museum, Falmouth Art Gallery, The Wilson in Cheltenham and Poole Museum.

Art & Social Change (2016-19) was an Erasmus Plus project that developed new training methods using the arts to prevent burnout for healthcare professionals working with people in recovery from substance use. The 7 partners were from Germany, Italy, Lithuania and the UK.


The MARCH Network is one of 8 national networks funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) as part of the 2018 Cross-Council Mental Health Plus call to further research into mental health.MARCH focuses on social, cultural and community assets – which includes the arts, culture, heritage sites, libraries, green spaces, community centres, social clubs, community associations and volunteer groups – and the role they play in enhancing public mental health and wellbeing, preventing mental illness, and supporting those living with mental health conditions. The Resources section of their website has a research corner.

The Synergi Collaborative Centre is a five year national initiative to reframe, rethink and transform the realities of ethnic inequalities in severe mental illness and multiple disadvantage. Taking a collaborative approach, the centre aims to use the principles of co-production of knowledge and a creative mix of robust research methods.

Get Involved!

How to Get Involved in the Regional Strategy

Join the MARCH network


What’s in your area?

  • Which Voluntary Community Sector Organisations in your locality are working with people with mental health problems?
  • Are arts and mental health activities on offer at your local GP Surgery, Library, Community Centre?
  • What are you, your local museum, arts centre or arts organisation currently offering that is or could be helping with mental health and wellbeing?

Share: Contribute to building a picture of regional activity by contacting Alex Coulter

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