Connecting art and health during a pandemic

Clara’s name has been changed in the interest of protecting her privacy.

Painting by Clara in green black and yellow.

Clara. Green black and yellow.

 

When COVID-19 came to Finland and self-isolation measures were put in place, Clara decided to start an online art group where the members could share and create art together, despite being apart.

It began when Clara took a course in watercolor painting.

“When I started painting in November, I wasn’t in such a good place. But painting really helped relieve my anxiety and stress,” Clara says. “My art teacher told me that one shouldn’t be focused on the results, but on the process. And that is what it was for me—a process without judgement, which felt really great.”

 

 “I wanted to fight feelings of loneliness and connect and activate people so that we had something we could do together.”

 

Clara struggles with feelings of anxiety and painting has helped her relieve these feelings. This inspired her to start a group, hoping that by sharing her work she could also help others. When Clara created the art group, she made it clear to not to put any restrictions on any art-forms that may be used.

“I wanted to fight feelings of loneliness and connect and activate people so that we had something we could do together,” she says. “Painting, poetry, digital art – anything members wanted to do was accepted.”

Painting by Clara, "Fun in Paris"

Clara, “Fun in Paris”

 

Every day, The 25 members of Clara’s group create work based upon themes that are posted by Clara. One theme that Clara particularly enjoys is self-portraits.

“In the beginning of the pandemic, I started painting every day and I have felt quite good during the isolation partly because of this.” Clara mentions. “Let the art live and don’t be too hard on yourself. Don’t focus on the end product. You don’t have to show your work to anyone, you can just do it for yourself.”

Smaller initiatives are important in many ways. The art group helped bring together people in a time of crisis around something that is proven to be beneficial for our well-being – art.

Painting by Clara, “Blue” inspired by the movie La La land

Clara, “Blue” inspired by the movie La La land

 

Evidence of art’s impact on mental and physical health

A report from the World Health Organization in September of 2019 reveals that art can in fact be beneficial for both mental and physical health. The report cited evidence from over 900 publications relating to the art and health.

“Bringing art into people’s lives through activities including dancing, singing, and going to museums and concerts offers an added dimension to how we can improve physical and mental health,” according to Dr. Piroska Östlin, interim WHO Regional Director for Europe in a press release.

In the report, art is divided into several different categories: the performing arts, visual arts, design and craft, literature, culture and digital and electronic arts. The art forms can both be active, such as painting or singing, and receptive, such as reading or listening to music.

“They consider health and well-being in a broader societal and community context, and offer solutions that common medical practice has so far been unable to address effectively,”

This in turn can lead to enhanced self-efficacy, coping and emotional regulation as well as stress reduction, reduced loneliness, enhanced immune function, higher cardiovascular activity and healthier behaviors.

Picture from “What is the evidence on the role of the arts in improving health and well-being in the WHO European Region?” factsheet by the WHO.

Picture from “What is the evidence on the role of the arts in improving health and well-being in the WHO European Region?” factsheet by the WHO.

 

“The examples cited in this groundbreaking WHO report show ways in which the arts can tackle ‘wicked’ or complex health challenges such as diabetes, obesity and mental ill health. They consider health and well-being in a broader societal and community context, and offer solutions that common medical practice has so far been unable to address effectively,”  Dr. Östlin states in a press release.

The benefits can be psychological, physiological, social and behavioral. They can work towards prevention and promotion as well as management and treatment.

The results of the report found that within prevention and promotion, art can affect the social determinants of health, support child development, encourage health-promoting behaviors, help to prevent ill health and support caregiving.

Within management and treatment, the arts can help people who are experiencing mental illness and support care for people with acute conditions. It can further help support people with neurodevelopmental and neurological disorders, assist with the management of non-communicable diseases and support end-of-life care.

 Our mental health today

According to the WHO, around 450 million people currently live with mental disorders.  Almost two-thirds with diagnosed disorders never seek treatment due to stigma and also due to the lack of prevention-measures and treatment available. Depressive disorders are the fourth leading cause of the global disease burden.

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the Inter-Agency Standing Committee has named common mental health and psychosocial responses to the pandemic.

Stress, anxiety and worry are common.

“I urge governments, civil society, health authorities and others to come together urgently to address the mental health dimension of this pandemic,”

“After decades of neglect and underinvestment in mental health services, the COVID-19 pandemic is now hitting families and communities with additional mental stress. Those most at risk are frontline healthcare workers, older people, adolescents and young people, those with pre-existing mental health conditions and those caught up in conflict and crisis,” said UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. “I urge governments, civil society, health authorities and others to come together urgently to address the mental health dimension of this pandemic.”

Art-for-health and policy

Worldwide, one in four people will be affected by mental or neurological disorders. The COVID-19 pandemic is causing additional mental stress.

In the report by the WHO it was suggested that arts be included in the training of health-care professionals and ensuring the accessibility of arts-for-health programs within communities.

Clara took initiative by creating her own art-group and by taking a class in watercolor-painting, but it could be made more accessible through policy.

Helplines in Europe

If you believe you are living with a mental health illness, seek professional help.

Mental Health Europe (MHE) created a map of helplines and services to support your mental health during COVID-19 crisis. In a few clicks, this interactive map will help you find more details on helplines or services providing mental health support during COVID-19 in your country.

https://www.mhe-sme.org/library/helplines/