“Every child is born blessed with a vivid imagination. But, just as muscle grows flabby with disuse, so the bright imagination of a child pales in later years if they cease to exercise it.” - Walt Disney
Being a designer and creative person, and being lucky enough to create and make things on a daily basis, I think I often take for granted what a positive effect this has on my mental health and wellbeing. In fact, if I’m truly open and honest, where I have gone through periods of not being able to create regularly, I have definitely noticed a lack of motivation and a lower mood. We’ve all heard of writer’s block, but I can safely say that “Creative Block” is certainly a real thing. The fear of imperfection or not having enough decent ideas to fulfil a project can really set you back and, sometimes, can take a while to overcome.
Learning from my own experiences, the relationship between creativity and our mental health is a subject that I’ve been keen to discover more about in recent years. From speaking to friends and family who don’t necessarily consider themselves ‘creative’, I’ve found that the reason many people don’t engage in creative activities is because they have been told from a young age that they weren't any good.
Even Picasso said “Every child is an artist, the problem is to remain an artist when they grow up.” The arts can be very subjective and so if one of your peers, or a teacher, tells you that they don’t like the look of what you’ve made or you don’t have the skills to pursue it any further, this can set you back - and even put a stop to it for some altogether.
I think this has forced a lot of people to have a fairly linear view on what it means to be creative, when in actual fact you don’t need to be the next Van Gogh. It doesn't really matter you what the final outcome is or if you can ‘draw well’. It’s more about the process, how that makes you feel and the connections that can be made along the way.
The National Centre of Creative Health https://ncch.org.uk/ is a registered charity with a board of trustees and small staff team. They are supported by a UK-wide advisory group and Creative Health Champions who are working hard to promote the benefits of creativity on our mental health and helping to implement initiatives such as social prescribing, where patients are prescribed mindful, social activities such as exercise, or gardening as an and/or for medication.
I recently listened to one of their round tables where advocate for creative health Debs Teel discussed her own experiences; “The difference creativity made to me was because it focused on my wellness not my illness [...] the art was very different, it gave me the time and space to help me deal with things myself, in the way that was right in the time for me”. She described the opportunity for social connection and was able to discover a sense of identity and purpose all with significant cost saving versus paying for therapy or medication prescription. And whilst this is not to say that these methods have to be mutually exclusive of each other, it definitely shows an effective, less clinical approach to how we cope with negative symptoms.
Dr Daisy Fancourt, Professor of Psychobiology and Epidemiology at UCL and Director of the World Health Organisation Collaborating Centre of Arts & Health, also highlighted the need for creative health services. She revealed that over half of young people with negative mental health symptoms are waiting more than four months to be seen, and over three quarters of those people’s symptoms deteriorate whilst they’re waiting.
Research has also found that adults without mental health issues who engage in creative activity are half as likely to develop symptoms in the next decade. I think this highlights that prevention is key. If we can educate young people from an early stage on how to look after and monitor their wellbeing, and encourage creativity, maybe those above figures will reduce over time.
And all this links back to our recent Global Family study where we listened to over 5000 families around the world about what it means to be them in 2023. We found that parents globally recognise the importance of mental health and wellbeing. When asked what the most important skills their child will develop in the future are, “How to manage their mental health and wellbeing” was chosen by 1 in 4 parents (24%), ahead of skills like “leadership” and “technological and digital skills.” And in my opinion, implementing forms of creativity into that management is so important.
So what can we do to help young people look after their mental health creatively and how will it impact their wellbeing? Well there are plenty of resources out there and it doesn’t have to be just drawing. Why not try baking with your little one, singing or dancing, or even get them out in the garden to pot some plants! This week (6th-12th February) is Place2Be’s Children’s Mental Health week, who host a range of support, advice and resources for young people including some creative activities: https://www.place2be.org.uk/our-services/parents-and-carers/wellbeing-resources-for-families/activities-from-the-art-room/
Laura H Brown also offers a range of mindfulness activities for kids with her ‘My Emotions Activity Book’ helping children to articulate their thoughts, feelings and experiences, found at: https://www.myemotionsactivitybook.com/
At KI, Mental Health and Wellbeing is one of our Six Immovable Pillars and our aim is to go above and beyond to support the feelings of children and families in every project we do. We have created our own set of activity sheets which can be found here!
To summarise, creativity has been found to:
But most of all, it’s just a bit of fun! So, why not give it a go - pick up a paintbrush, have a sing-song or try a new musical instrument - I’d certainly recommend it!