Making art for mental health
This week has been Mental Health Awareness week in the UK. I’ve been sharing my thoughts and some resources over in my Instagram stories during the last few days, in particular links to support. It’s a subject very close to my heart and going by the messages I’ve had, lots of us find that making art feels good.
Good days and bad days
I’m big on highlighting mental health stuff. We all have mental health, just as we do physical health and just like with our aches and pains, some days are better than others in our minds too. Did anyone escape a dip in mental health during the last year or so? It’s so important to know how to take care of our minds as well as our bodies. There are many things we can do to help ourselves and one of them is art.
(This is not just about having a diagnosis, although for many it is. Whether you have a diagnosis of mental illness or not, your mental health is important. Some of us have a diagnosis that we live with every day. We are lucky if we have had access to the support, services and tools we need to live our best lives. Not everyone does and not everyone feels able to ask for help.)
Mental illness is something I have personal experience of and maybe I’ll write about that one day. When I became ill art making was recommended to me. What I know for sure is that I have more good days when I make art.
What are the benefits of making art?
There are plenty of studies that show the benefits of art and crafts on our wellbeing. Creating something, colouring in, knitting, painting or whatever your creative activity it can have a calming effect. It can give us the opportunity to take time for ourselves, slow down and escape into a peaceful place of creative flow. If we like our results we may even feel happy for our achievement too.
I enjoy a wide range of creative activities from art journaling to painting and writing to crochet. It helps me to have different projects on the go, something for every mood and energy. I have projects where I can put my restless energy and others that allow me to curl up on the sofa. Some are repetitive, almost meditative and others are expressive and unpredictable.
What they all have in common is the way they let my mind be in the present moment rather than going over the past or worrying about the future. Here’s some of what I do to get the most out of my art practice, maybe they can help you too.
Making time for art
Setting the intention to create is a great first step. Making time for your creative life is so important especially if it helps you to feel good! Make it a priority, write it on your calendar, tell your family or make a Do not Disturb sign for the door! Take a bit of creative time just for you and if you don’t do it for any reason, know you can try again another day, without guilt.
I will always find a million things to do instead of making art just for fun. Maybe it’s something for someone else, maybe I have a genuine to do list that can’t wait but it’s easy to make art the last thing and this is something I’m trying to change. I wouldn’t expect my body to work well if I didn’t rest so why should I expect my mind to work well if I don’t give it the same?
Make it easy on yourself
If you can, keep something out ready to pick up when you can. Maybe you have somewhere you can leave a project out, doing a few minutes each day. If you don’t have a dedicated space for art choose something that’s easy to get out and put away. Maybe it’s a sketchbook and pen in your bag, an art journal and markers by the sofa or watercolours and paper on a tray.
Improving your mental health through art
Remember it’s about the practice, not so much the results. It’s prioritising time for yourself where your thoughts are directed at something you enjoy. That said, I’ve thought through some pretty big stuff while working on my art and that helps too. This part of your day however short should feel good, so do it often and feel the benefits regularly. If you’re having trouble getting started, there may be something here to help you. There’s more to say about the role of art journaling too but that will have to wait.
Find out more
Talking about mental health and illness is essential for everyone to encourage shame-free conversation, help people to reach out for support and ensure that mental health services are improved to meet the need.
Below is a list of UK support charities offering a range of services. Please share them with others if you think they might help. I’m not a medical professional, just someone with lived experience of mental health difficulties. If you need support or advice please contact: