Could art on prescription be the key to turning around mental ill health?

Home Arts Could art on prescription be the key to turning around mental ill health?
Could art on prescription be the key to turning around mental ill health?

Australia has one of the highest rates of mental ill health in the world.

We book in time with our GP for mental health concerns more often than any other ailment.

One in four of us will experience an anxiety disorder during our lifetime, and one in 10 will experience depression.

The statistics paint a pretty bleak picture, but what if actually painting the picture is part of the solution?

Bronwyn has always been skeptical about art therapy. She says it conjures images of privilege and pretension.

“It’s a little bit wanky,” she says, laughing.

“I kind of associate it with hipsters living in the inner city or wealthy white mums who are, like, stressed about their divorce settlement.”

Bronwyn has had anxiety for most of her life, and developed PTSD after the sudden death of her brother on flight MH17 in 2014.

She says the trauma she experienced means her anxiety is life-long.

Bronwyn kneels on the ground in front of her artwork. A woman looks down at it, speaking to her
Bronwyn overcame serious doubts about art therapy to sign up for the experiment.(ABC)

Even though she has a great psychologist, she was on the lookout for additional strategies to help manage it.

“Anxiety for me is something that’s permanent and it’s something that ebbs and flows,” she said.

“Also because I had some surface-level judgements about it, I wanted to put my money where my mouth is.”

So, she did what she never thought she’d do.

She signed on for art as therapy.

‘It was instantly calming’

Bronwyn was one of seven people from very different walks of life who signed on for an experimental program on ABC TV.

It’s called Space 22, and follows the seven Australians through different creative outlets such as photography, painting and singing to judge what benefits these activities can provide.

A group of ten people stand around a large wooden table. Wendy gestures to a paper scribbled on.
Famed Australian artist Wendy Sharpe led the group through painting and drawing exercises.(ABC)

If successful, the program would add to the growing calls for time engaged in the arts to be part of treatments doctors and other healthcare providers in Australia could prescribe.

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