For Mental Health Awareness Week this year (May 15- May 21), Arts Well, a community interest company based in Penryn provided a range of fantastic creative workshops for the local community. Truthfal spoke with Jayne Howard, founder of Arts Well, about the role of creativity for our mental health and well-being amidst the current cost of living crisis.
Jayne Howard, who has had a 20-year career in the NHS, has always had a passion for creativity and art, with a background as an English and drama teacher. “The arts for me are a reason to get up in the morning.”
Concerned with how we can utilise our creativity to help improve our well-being and mental health, Jayne said: “Over the last twenty years that I’ve been involved in this work the evidence has been growing and research shows it can help in so many ways. It can help with specific health conditions but It’s a way for people to connect with each other and their local community, a way of finding your identity, developing self-esteem, confidence, and purpose and all things which have a really positive impact on health”.
“Art and creativity are about how we can make change, within ourselves, others, and society.”
The events that took place for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week included both in-person and online workshops. These included writing for wellbeing sessions which explored the themes of senses and journeys, along with an in-person hat-making workshop. Speaking of the event Jayne said, “We were very conscious of the fact that a lot of people in Cornwall wear a lot of different hats, we’re all doing a lot of different things at different times and so we invited people who live and work around the area to come in and make a hat that they wanted for the day. It’s a really nice way to be able to connect with people in the local community.”
Alongside these events, Arts Well hosted an online discussion delving into the question: ‘What is the role of creativity in a health crisis?’- a provocation posed at a national level. Statistics from the National Academy of Medicine found that medical care only accounted for 10–20% of people’s overall health status. Our health and well-being is connected to so many other factors, including where we live, our social connections and our behaviors.
During the pandemic, people instinctively knew that doing something creative was good for them. “People weren’t just making sourdough bread, they were doing various crafts, painting, making posters for their windows, joining online choirs- a whole plethora of creative activities”.
“Art is often about problem-solving, persistence, making sense out of something that looks like a mess, and these are important skills for life. What we often see is when people get their voice, we can see real transformation in people’s lives.”
Speaking about the impact of the current cost of living crisis on people’s mental health, Jayne said: “When people are under financial stress that adds to the daily stress and anxiety we have, and the uncertainty that it brings. It puts strains on people’s relationships, and people have had to cut back on activities that they do that are good for them, if they’ve had some disposable income to spend on things that are good for their health and well-being, whether it’s swimming, the gym or a group they enjoy, they have had to cut back on those which has an impact. But I think it’s really the anxiety and worry and uncertainty about the future that really has an impact on top of the pandemic, so it’s been a really difficult time for people’s mental health of all ages.”
Speaking about her personal experience with the cost of living crisis, Jayne spoke candidly about her anxiety.” Last year in particular there was a lot of worry about housing. With the cost-of-living rising and rents going up, there was anxiety about what that would mean for us.”
“We know of people who go without meals in the day in order to feed their children, and people ashamed to talk about what’s happened to the which acerbates the problem.”
“We work in partnerships with lots of other organisations, and they are all under pressure. These services are all seeing more and more people coming to them for support, whether it’s practical support in terms food banks, support for mental health, or childcare, there has been a big increase in referrals. There is more pressure in the system all around, and we work with a lot of voluntary community organisations who bear the brunt of this because when the statutory services can’t cope, that’s where people go. It’s quite an uncertain time in the voluntary community sector.”
When discussing the role of creativity in the cost of living crisis, Jayne candidly spoke about the values and limitations: “Creativity it’s not going to rid of the cost of living crisis, it’s not going to solve people living circumstances, some people are living in really difficult circumstances, and we talk about this as a mental health crisis but actually we shouldn’t pathologize it, I think we should be talking about people who are living in really difficult circumstances and doing the best they can.”
Creativity provides opportunities for people to connect with each other, which is really important for our health and well-being. This connection helps people to feel they are not so alone, and to share ideas and solutions, it gives people a voice and enables them to express things that they might not be able to articulate in other ways. It can also provide an opportunity for distraction for people with difficult lives, “having some time out to do something mindful for ourselves is really valuable.”
Jayne is passionate that the arts is not about keeping people quiet: “The arts can help people to think about things they would like to change, or things they want to see change in society and the arts it’s really good at raising awareness and giving people a voice.It can also help us recognise the skills that we have that we sometimes aren’t aware of. Art isn’t always about being relaxed, art it’s often about problem solving, persistence, it’s about making sense out of something that looks like a mess, and these are important skills for life. What we often see is when people get their voice, we can see real transformation in peoples lives.”
“We’re not going to be able to change the conditions of the cost-of-living crisis, but we can help people to navigate that effectively”
You can keep up to date with future Arts Well events on their website https://arts-well.com/