CONCEPTUAL for SAMH: The Mental Health Benefits of Engaging with the Arts

There has been a string of news articles on the positive impact of art on mental health recently. Specifically, media have been reporting on events in Canada, where a group of doctors will start prescribing museum visits to help patients suffering from a range of ailments, including mental illness, as part of a pilot program, developed through a partnership between the Francophone Association of Doctors in Canada (MFdC) and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA). Nathalie Bondil, the director of MMFA said in a statement: “I am convinced that in the 21st century, culture will be what physical activity was for health in the 20th century.” This is an interesting affirmation that fits in with developments closer to home. British Health Secretary Matt Hancock has announced a plan for the expansion of “social prescriptions” by UK doctors, in an effort to find alternative treatments to battle overmedication. This the concept of prescribing a social activity like taking a yoga class, visiting an art gallery or joining a knitting circle and it has proven to be effective, as research has shown that patients end up with reduced medication, less need to visit their doctors, as well as benefitting from a mental-health boost.

The Glasgow University Art Appreciation Society (GUAAS) and the GUU Libraries Committee are very excited about these developments and their possibilities for improving student mental health. We believe the arts have great power in helping people deal and comprehend their own mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety. Studies conducted by Art Fund show that almost two thirds (63%) of us have at some point visited a museum or gallery to deal with stress and anxiety. Engaging in artistic practice also offers possibilities for stress relief and as part of therapy. We therefore decided to call attention to the efforts of the Scottish Association for Mental Health on the occasion of our upcoming exhibition CONCEPTUAL of art by Glasgow students.

Around since 1923, SAMH currently operates over 60 services in communities across Scotland providing mental health social care support, and services with respect to addictions and employment, among others. These services, together with national programme work in See Me, respectme, suicide prevention, physical activity and sport; inform SAMH’s policy and campaign work to influence positive social change. Their services are person-centered and based on an ethos of recovery, and if people have an interest in activities such as drama, creative writing, painting or dance, part of that recovery can include participation in activities based on the arts.

They work alongside partners to provide projects and services to support raising awareness and recovery. One such exciting partnership was launched in 2018 with The National Theatre of Scotland. The programme, ‘LIKE FLYING’, involves working with young people to explore ways in which the theatre and creativity can support mental wellbeing through aerial performance methods.

We understand how difficult it can be to start talking about mental health, which is why we hope to engender conversations with our exhibition. Representatives of SAMH have been invited to come to our opening night to give a talk about their work. We will also ask for donations at the door throughout the week. In addition, many of the selected artworks consider the subject of mental health, with students presenting their personal experiences and their ways of processing them. Considering the widespread and serious complaints about the lack of welfare services on campus, we believe promoting the positive effects of the arts, and the efforts of student artists, should be a priority. And with CONCEPTUAL for SAMH, we hope to take a step in the right direction.

img_3995To read more about the work of SAMH, visit

Hester Mauduit


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