How art benefits those with mental health issues

Tuesday 19th December 2017 |

A few years ago, London’s first gallery based entirely around mental health opened. Outsider Gallery offers music and therapy sessions, showcasing work by the mentally ill.

The outcome has been successful - a hub of vibrant and personal artwork, live performance and therapy for those in need and those there to observe. In our current time, the NHS has low funds for mental health services and patients will be put on long waiting lists, controversial medications and generally dismissed.

So should this form of therapy and expression be more commonly used? After all, mentally ill artists usually create fascinating work… and it’s helping them in the process.

Vincent Van Gogh is one of the most famous artists in history. His experience with mental health is also commonly known about, and his own suicide. What isn’t discussed as commonly about Van Gogh, or other mentally ill artists work such as Edvard Munch, who painted The Scream, is how their creative portrayal of mental health can be a fantastic way of venting - something universally beneficial.

But wait… you can't sing? Can’t draw? A skill for watercolour painting or a sense of rhythm isn’t necessary to find art or music therapy helpful. The ritual of putting mind to paper can be very good for you. Visual stimulation and imaginative thinking are healthy for the brain, along with the fact that creative arts are generally relaxing and enjoyable. A few minutes escape from busy thoughts by channelling them onto something else, can improve your whole day.

The many talented artists who show their struggle through art are sharing their thoughts openly. Others can view, listen, analyse and understand. The pain, emotion and fear of mental illness is projected into something constructive, communal, and harmless. This is a good way for those who are suffering to release suppressed and secretive feelings. It’s also a fantastic way for others to learn and develop an understanding of what they are going through, in a world where the mentally ill are still excluded and discriminated against. 

Ben Wakeling, the artist who put together Outsider Gallery with Jon Hall, describes the benefits of artistic therapy perfectly - “Communicating visually will always help when it’s difficult to do so verbally.”

Really, it is a beautiful concept to be able to see and hear what’s going on in someone else’s head - an otherwise invisible world in which some feel trapped.

Write, draw, sing, paint it out; you might end up with a masterpiece. 

We will, all of us, at some point experience or know someone who will experience mental illness. Music and art are two platforms in which we can all come together, speak without judgement, and make something worthwhile from the hectic struggle in our heads. Creativity and insanity can sometimes work hand in hand.

'The thoughts are unstoppable, but so is the music - it comes to me constantly' - Lady Gaga.