How the arts contribute to our wellbeing
“Community arts spaces provide access to different artforms in environments that encourage and support self-expression. Many of them provide for those who use mental health services, people with disabilities, the elderly, young people and different cultures. And they do this with very little funding and resourcing,” says Michael Moynahan, Chair of the Arts Council of New Zealand Toi Aotearoa.
In an opinion piece published in the New Zealand Herald, Michael says Associate Arts, Culture and Heritage Minister Carmel Sepuloni has requested more research and information about the contribution New Zealand's creative spaces make towards better wellbeing.
“We're assisting with this work alongside the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, the Ministry of Social Development, Office for Disability Issues and Arts Access Aotearoa. We hope this work will help inform future policy and decisions about acknowledging and supporting these vital contributors to our society.”
Mental Health and Addiction Inquiry
In 2018 the Government commenced the Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction: Oranga Tāngata, Oranga Whānau. It intends to release its formal response to the 40 recommendations made by that inquiry in March 2019.
Although the report acknowledges that many of the solutions to New Zealand’s so-called “quiet crisis” lie with families/whānau, communities and social services, and also in new ways of thinking about the problems affecting New Zealanders’ mental health, Michael believes it left out one very important thing.
“While we welcomed the inquiry and subsequent report, He Ara Oranga, we felt there was a missed opportunity in that none of the report's 40 recommendations specifically acknowledged that involvement in the arts improves personal health and wellbeing.
“We believe the arts have an essential role to play in supporting better health outcomes for New Zealanders, particularly in mental health. In our submission to the inquiry we advocated specific funding to support the introduction of arts prescription schemes and creative spaces, directly and consistently to a level that allows them to both sustain and grow their services for people all around Aotearoa.”
Arts prescription to improve health
An “arts prescription” is written advice from a health professional to get involved in some form of the arts as a means of improving a patient's health and wellbeing, he writes. This could involve many forms of self-expression, including visual arts, music, dance and theatre. Similar schemes are already in place in Australia, the UK and Canada.
In the UK and other countries with similar challenges to New Zealand, research has provided evidence that participating in the arts improves quality of life and assists in recovery from mental and physical illness.
“Broadly, shared activities and experiences across the arts promote unified communities and enhance human interactions. This is particularly important as our population ages and we continue to see an increase in our people experiencing mental illness and suffering.”
Michael says the Arts Council’s research shows that many New Zealanders understand the benefits the arts bring to their personal health and wellbeing, as well as to the wider community. He wants policy and decision-makers to formally recognise this contribution.
“This approach will serve us well as we all take the first steps towards a more fitting and sustainable approach to mental health in Aotearoa.”