Queen's Policy Engagement

Mental health wellbeing and the role of the arts

As this year's Northern Ireland Mental Health Arts and Film Festival gets underway, Dr Gavin Davidson looks at the role of the arts in supporting a positive approach to mental health and how research at Queen's University is reinforcing the importance of the arts in mental health and wellbeing.

Mental health wellbeing and the role of the arts

The Third Northern Ireland Mental Health Arts and Film Festival is underway and will run until 22 May with a wide range of events, many at Queen’s, but also in venues across Northern Ireland.

The aim of the Festival is to contribute to a more positive approach to mental health. The Bamford Review, which continues to inform policy in Northern Ireland, recognised and highlighted the negative impact of uninformed and negative attitudes about mental health problems. In March 2016, the Health Minister, Simon Hamilton, launched Northern Ireland’s new mental health anti-stigma and anti-discrimination campaign – the “Change Your Mind” campaign – supported by Comic Relief, the Public Health Agency (PHA) and NIAMH (the Northern Ireland Association for Mental Health).

It also builds on the PHA’s campaigns to reduce barriers and encourage help-seeking behaviours, and Comic Relief’s commitment to supporting mental wellbeing and breaking down the associated stigma and discrimination.


Tackling stigma one conversation at a time

The Festival hopes to support this approach and this year’s theme is ‘Tackling stigma one conversation at a time.’ The Festival is also working closely with the student-led Mind Your Mood mental health campaign at Queen’s which is offering free mental health awareness workshops to students.

Launching the Festival, Director Jane Reynolds said:

“The Festival received more than 100 submissions from artists and community groups from across Northern Ireland and from these submissions we have created a very exciting programme. A highlight of the Festival is the unique opportunity to see people coping with mental health from varied backgrounds.

Other highlights include a travelling showcase of short films; Colour of Poetry exhibition and Tanka poetry reading in Coleraine; films written and produced by mental health service users facilitated by the Educational Shakespeare Company; a Poetry Therapy workshop and Unseen Stitches: Understanding Maternal Mental Health through Textiles, a curated exhibition. The line-up for this year’s festival has something for everyone to enjoy. Hosting such a fun-filled and enjoyable festival is a great way of challenging the many issues associated with mental health.”

The more specific objectives of the Festival are to challenge stigma and mental health inequalities; make connections between public, arts and community organisations; reach those who are often missed by both the arts and health education models; support recovery and wellbeing and reduce self-stigma through participation in the creative process by those who have experienced mental health issues; create enduring partnerships and year-round arts education resources and projects.


Mental Health and the Arts – what the research is saying

There is a growing evidence base, supported by research at Queen’s University, which is reinforcing the importance of the arts in mental health and wellbeing throughout the lifecourse:

  • A major recent study, led by Professor Sam Porter from the School of Nursing and Midwifery, found that music therapy is effective in addressing children and young people’s emotional, behavioural and developmental problems.
  • Dr Paula Devine, who leads ARK’s Ageing Programme at Queen’s, has completed a review of how arts-based programmes for people with dementia can be evaluated.
  • Dr Paul Murphy from Creative Arts is currently developing a research programme specifically focused on how the arts can inform and change knowledge, attitudes and behaviours.

Click here for a copy of the Festival Programme or follow on Facebook or Twitter. Or you can email the Festival at info@nimhaff.org

Dr Gavin Davidson
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Dr Gavin Davidson is a senior lecturer in Social Work in the School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work at Queen's University Belfast. His main research interests are in the area of mental health, specifically in the deinstitutionalisation process, the effectiveness of mental health services, trauma and coercion, the recovery approach and mental health/mental capacity legislation.

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