A textile brain by artist, Mandy Shepherd

Exploring Art and Mental Health

R Hollis

Exploring Art and Mental Health

Posted in Editorial

Written by Vicky Shepherd
Knitted brain

Artwork by Mandy Shepherd for the Recollections May Vary Exhibition

Mental health is at the forefront of many current conversations. Such issues are said to affect half of the global population before the age of 40. There are many ways to treat and manage mental health, from medicine to therapy. One form of therapy often overlooked is Art Therapy.

Cognitive scientists have researched Art Therapy’s effectiveness for many years, finding that art reduces stress markers, inducing a positive mental state. The relationship between art and mental health is well established in the field of Art Therapy, in which art-based techniques are used as interventions for mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.

Although a great way to address deeper issues, Art Therapy can also be used as a form of mindfulness, helping us to be aware, in the moment and conscious of our thoughts.

Art Therapy became a formal program for mental health in the 1940s when Doctors investigated the healing benefits of art, finding that people living with mental illness often used drawings and other forms of art to express themselves. To this day, it is still used as an effective tool to manage and calm mental health issues. A 2016 study found that half an hour of creative activity can reduce stress and positively affect mental health.


Art Therapy in Wakefield 


Illustrated book cover, person in the front with trees framing a path

Poetry book Created by Dawn Bland, supported by Spectrum People

Our district is home to several organisations making a difference through art-based therapies. Spectrum People is an independent Charity set up in 2013, providing meaningful activities and support for vulnerable adults and young people across the Wakefield district. Working with partner organisations, Spectrum People’s projects and events help individuals overcome the barriers in their lives.

Woman painting blue and yellow squares

Re-Emerge at Art Walk, July 2022

Wakefield is also home to Re-Emerge, a programme from The Art House, in partnership with Spectrum People. The programme includes creative journaling, printmaking, ceramics, photography and painting and enables participants to gently explore creativity in a supportive and healthy setting. In July, Re-Emerge held an exhibition during Art Walk, showcasing the inspirational creativity of programme participants.

For those interested in art and mental health, there is currently an exhibition at the Wakefield Mental Health Museum, Recollections May Vary, in which artists have responded to the museum’s unique collection of objects and documentation relating to the treatment of mental health. Featuring the work of many local artists, the museum is one of only three in England dedicated to exploring the treatment of mental health.


How You Can Embrace Art-based Mindfulness


Abstract blacnk and white painting

Cara Macwilliam for Recollections May Vary

Make Mistakes
Try something new. You may not see professional results at first, but remember it’s about the process. 

Reuse and Repeat
Be creative. Play and experiment with reusable and unexpected materials! Try dry erase markers on a window or Playdoh to make a sculpture, both can easily be wiped away or reshaped to start again! Emphasizing the process rather than the product takes the pressure off the outcome.

Limit Language
Try to talk as little as possible when creating and listen to music without lyrics. Different parts of the brain are activated for visual arts in comparison to speech and language processing. Give the overworked parts of your mind a break and indulge in the calm relaxation that comes from peace.

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