Mental Health Awareness Week

SSally Nicholsonally Nicholson, Interim Head of Health and Care at Riverside Care & Support

Love it or hate it, art provokes a reaction. If you need an example of how it divides opinion, you just have to look at the Turner Prize shortlist, which every year is met with an equal measure of critical acclaim and revulsion. But whichever side of the divide you sit on, you can’t deny its ability to stir emotions and spark debate.

For this very reason, the arts have long been associated with good health and wellbeing and is being increasingly recognised as a therapeutic means to improve mental health and overall wellbeing, quality of life and coping behaviours and reduce stress, anxiety and depression.

At Riverside, we have a track record of delivering care and support services in Hull for more than 25 years. Throughout which, we’ve championed using the arts to support good mental health.

In partnership with Hull Training, we’ve delivered a number of activities that focus on the therapy of art, including classes in paint, sculpture and photography at our Care and Support schemes at Clear-View and St Ambrose Court.

One customer said: “I have been able to express some of my deepest emotions through art. The horrors I have experienced are not always able to be put in to words. Art has given me an outlet for feelings that have been pent up for years. I can see how my feelings look on canvas, this might not be able to be seen by others but I feel relief to see my feeling from the outside instead of trying to make essence of the soup inside me.”

Art will also play a key role in our flagship extra care scheme in Hull, which will cater for people with a mix of health needs which could include mental health and learning difficulties. Features such as the summer houses in the gardens have been carefully designed by artists to enhance the quality of life. They can equally be used as a quiet place of reflection or a meeting point for friends.

While active participation in art is a great way for people to express themselves, public art can provide a focal point for people who find it easier to be in the company of others when they aren’t the centre of attention. It can also be a great conversation starter among people who isolate themselves because they feel anxious in groups. Art is subjective. There is no right or wrong.

Art can also create a comforting sense of place. Take the Angel of the North. When the idea was first conceived, it was met with gasps of horror but has since been embraced by the people of the North East and is now considered an iconic landmark.

The art at the extra care schemes has been specially chosen and designed to create distinctive environments, which express a clear identity. This can help make people feel connected and foster a sense of belonging.

With one in four people experiencing a mental health issue each year and the cost to the UK economy estimated at £105 billion, extra care schemes like the one in Hull play a valuable part in minimising the impact of public cuts to health budgets.