Connecting Art and Mental Health
by Ben Dortimer
When I first became involved with the Mirabel Foundation in 2001, a charity that I am now Chairman of all these years later, it was to donate art materials that were used in grief therapy. Mirabel is a charity that supports children orphaned or abandoned by parental drug use. Severely traumatised, many of the children couldn’t talk about their experiences, but they could draw them… and then they could talk about what they had drawn. This profoundly affected me and I was able to support Mirabel in having a book published for fundraising, that shared many of these drawings and explanations, titled A Rainbow of Feelings.
Almost twenty years on and I find myself talking to my team and customers about mental health again, but in a much broader context. I see life getting faster and more instant and I see people struggling to cope. People who I’m sure have never been diagnosed with mental illness, but who are finding it harder to stay positive and making poor life choices as a result. The World Health Organisation says that one in four people will be affected by mental health issues at some time in their lives and there are currently 450 million suffering from mental disorders, making it among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.
Having now been in our industry for twenty-one years, I see that we have an incredibly important role to play as a collective to help. Formal arts therapy continues to grow, as does evidence of its efficacy, but for young people and adults who aren’t in formal treatment, art has a very important role to play in mental health. I believe this is in two key ways: firstly, by providing people with a sense of Mastery and secondly, through the sense of belonging, that comes in the communities that form through art.Mastery
There are many studies showing the link between mastery or self-efficacy and positive impacts on mental health. In short, people who begin to learn and develop in a discipline, such as painting or drawing, soon develop a desire to become better. They seek mastery. On this journey, they discover they are far more capable than they imagined, and this helps greatly in the development of self-belief. Soon their focus is on what they can do, not what they can’t do, and they start to approach life with a sense of possibility.
People who suffer mental health issues often feel isolated and lack a sense of community and belonging. While art can be a solitary pastime, it is often done in groups and at workshops. There are now many opportunities to connect and feel a sense of belonging. It can even be through social media, such as posting artwork and engaging with others in groups focused on specialised areas such as watercolour painting.
As a business, we at Micador have decided we want to take an active part in helping and have been busily creating a wide range of learning materials with a view to helping people on their journey to Mastery. Whether simple ideas and activities for kids and parents, or complex tutorials for artists, we have an ever-growing library that we encourage you to view and to share with your own customers and art communities. You can find them all in our IDEAS & LEARNING page on our website.
We are also actively engaged with many communities and art groups, including our own social media pages @micador for kids, teachers and parents, and @micadorforartists for our art customers. Here we engage with our communities and share their artworks and ideas.
We don’t expect to change the whole world, but we believe we have an important role to play. We think we can all play a part in helping people get better.