Creativity and mental health recovery – by Annalisa Jackson
by Benjavisa Ruangvaree
Creativity and mental health RECOVERy
Trigger warning: This article discusses mental health issues and has references to suicide. Please only continue reading if you feel your mental health is stable enough to do so.
‘Mental health problems are one of the main causes of the overall disease burden worldwide.’ (1)
The most recent figures show that an average of 1 in 6 people have suffered from a common mental health problem in the past week. Alarmingly, one fifth of adolescents suffer from a mental health problem, and ten percent in the age range 5-16 years. (2)
Rates of mental illness have been continuing to rise for many years. Suicide accounted for over 5691 in 2019 and 5224 in 2020. (3)
The stresses of the last couple of years have not helped. Unfortunately, mental health research, prevention, and treatment can be woefully underfunded. In the child and adolescent population, it is shown that despite the rates of mental illness being between 10-20%, appropriate interventions have not been put in place in over 70% of these children.
Yet, children are not the only ones who benefit from having appropriate treatment. If adults receive early treatment and interventions, hospital admissions are reduced and/or shortened, and there is less need for higher cost and intensive interventions. Potential implications are huge for the economy, with savings of up to 600 million over three years, countless sick days reduced, and more people able to enter the work force.
There are a wide range of interventions and treatments that require input from medical professionals. However, creativity is a therapeutic technique that is both proven and can be done as part of a specific art-based therapy or at home done by the person themselves. (4)
There are many ways to help and support mental health issues from a personal standpoint. The endorphin rush from exercise is known to boost mood. Similarly, finding a creative pursuit that suits you can improve your mental health. Challenging your creative side frequently and consistently can help build upon that foundation.
Taking part in creative activities allows for an emotional release, as well as spending time being mindful and in the moment. It is no coincidence that creative therapy is being utilised by mental health services, owing to their track record in improving outcomes for mental health patients.
But creativity doesn’t have to be in a clinic or centre to be harnessed, neither does a person have to be subjectively ‘good’ at an activity.
In 2018 I attempted to end my life by suicide twice in a 36-hour period. With no inpatient beds available, I was instead invited to take part in a new project where patients attend an acute care unit on a daily basis, as an outpatient. I attended for four weeks, and within that time I participated in art therapy. I had previously done art and music therapy at a centre founded by a local charity.
To be clear I am not an artist. I am not ‘good’ at art forms like drawing or painting. My painting tends towards the more abstract as I can just expend some energy splashing about and experimenting with bits of sponge and palette knives. However, I was given the opportunity to create collages, lino print, work with Indian ink, paint, and mould clay during my recovery, and the satisfaction I got from it was immense. I still have my lino prints in a cupboard in the house somewhere, and my oldest daughter asked to hang an abstract painting I had done in her bedroom, for which I was both touched and honoured. I can unequivocally say my mental health recovery was improved by the opportunity to participate in these programmes.
When I left the acute care unit and my care was moved to the community team, I made sure I continued to be creative. I have been a writer and photographer for many years, albeit in an amateur sense rather than as part of a business. For a long time, I had not written or picked up a camera. I can definitely chart both my decline in mental health over the previous five years and lack of time spent being creative and see that they correspond.
That was three years ago. I am nowadays very proud of the work I put into being able to get and remain stable, with only short, manageable episodes of depression within that time; my continued interest and participation in creative activities has played a massive part in that.
Unfortunately, I don’t often have the time or space to paint anymore, but I have taken my photography back up again. It is now used as part of my business, but I also make sure to make time to be using my camera for sheer recreation. Some of my favourite photos have come when I am not out actively using it as a profession because I feel peaceful, and it transmits to my photos.
I also began to write poetry again after a long hiatus. In 2019 I took a leap of faith in myself and challenged my anxiety by taking part in spoken word at a local slam competition.
I had only attended two local open mics beforehand for the first time (very nerve-wracking) but managed to reach the semi-finals. I felt pride in myself for the first time in many years and have been to many open mics and multiple slams since, even taking a win last year during a zoom slam competition. Every time I perform, I can feel a rush of sheer joy and happiness.
And although my poetry covers dark times in my life, I also write poems that make people laugh, or to express the love I feel for the special people in my life. Without my writing those feelings would still be inside. To be able to use my creativity to both write, and perform, these pieces give me a feeling of validation and being heard.
And like many others, with every time I engage in a creative activity, day by day I recover.
When life is difficult, Samaritans are here – day or night, 365 days a year. You can call them for free on 116 123, email them at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.samaritans.org to find your nearest branch.
This is a series intending to bring awareness and understanding to these areas of mental health and creativity. They are in no way a substitute for professional information, whether a diagnosis, medication suggestions or otherwise. Hopefully they will provide useful insight to those generally interested or who are looking for a starting point when exploring aspects of mental health and creativity. Annalisa is writing from a personal perspective, as well as from her 21 years of experience in health care. Her latest article: Diagnosis – Writing a character with mental health issues is available through our Discord server on The Sanctuary page.
If you would like to learn more about Annalisa Jackson, then make sure to check out her page and links:
Additionally, if you would like to learn more about creavity, writing, or read more articles from Annalisa Jackson, then make sure to check out The Sanctuary for more information. With exclusive articles, weekly writing exercises, contests and an engaged community, it is the perfect place to get inspired and motivated in your writing and creativity!
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