A study is to investigate whether the arts and music can help to improve the mental health and wellbeing of patients and carers.

The 5-year project, Creative Practice for Mutual Recovery, led by The University of Nottingham, will examine the role that music, storytelling, photography, sculpture and other activities might play in assisting mental health service users and their carers.

The initiative builds on the work of Nottingham Health Humanities and its International Health Humanities Network and will centre on the concept of ‘mutual recovery’ — promoting social, cultural and emotional connectivity between patients, professionals and informal carers to gain mental health benefits for all parties involved in health, social or adult education delivery.

Funded by the Connected Communities programme, a cross-research funding council initiative led by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the study will aim to advance new challenges to the current policy and funding focus on biomedical and psychosocial treatments.

Changing healthcare culture

Professor Paul Crawford, who is leading the research and holds the world’s first chair in health humanities, said: “The target-driven, production line culture of our healthcare system has done tremendous damage and we are seeing management by remote control, where managers often don’t have a clue what’s happening as demonstrated by the recent scandalous situation at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust.

“This system is making it increasingly difficult for practitioners to be compassionate because they are under intense pressure to perform and many are suffering from burnout and struggling with their own mental health. When considering the attributes that modern-day healthcare is frequently accused of lacking, it is all too easy to overlook one of the most precious of all: humanity.

“This project is an intervention — our mental healthcare systems are not advancing and something is clearly missing. Our systems for aiding recovery in mental health service users is based on the concept that health professionals should offer a kind of ‘distant’ care from expert to service user without connecting with the social and cultural world of that person.

“With this project, we are seeking to show that in health, social care and adult education fields there are great opportunities to achieve a more shared creative process that will have emotional and mental health and well-being benefits not just for service users but also for informal carers and health, social care and education practitioners.”

Music and the arts have long been recognised for their mood enhancing properties and the study will examine whether taking part in these activities together can help to ‘recover’ the mental health of more than one person.

Among the adult-focused initiatives that will be studied will be:

• Birth Shock — Using photography and filmmaking to enable mothers affected by post-natal depression and trauma and their partners to explore their birth stories and the experiences of obstetricians and midwives
• Making Music for Mental Health — two 20-week programmes of creative music learning and performing for mental health service users and their carers led by professional and student musicians
• People Talking: Digital Dialogues for Mutual Recovery — a digital storytelling programme with three groups of mental health users and health and social care professionals
• Clay Works for Mutual Recovery — investigating whether clay therapy can offer mutual recovery among mental health service users, carers, artists and health and social care personnel
• A range of creative practices in the community education sector.

The study will involve collaboration between academics from Nottingham, Derby, De Montfort, Wolverhampton, Leicester and Falmouth universities, the Royal College of Music and others, included the Workers Education Association, Science Museum London, Mental Health Foundation and National Institute of Health in the US.