Museums raise awareness of mental health issues

Mental health issues will affect one in four people worldwide, at some point in their lives. People all over the world are living with conditions such as depression and anxiety. There can be a lot of stigma and negative stereotyping around the topic of mental health problems. It is a wide-ranging term that can cover many different conditions. For example, bipolar disorder, anxiety and panic attacks, schizophrenia, PTSD, OCD and more. People who are living with mental health issues can face discrimination. They can also find some aspects of life more difficult.

People who have mental health issues can often feel isolated. Community groups and projects can be an excellent way of combatting this. Group activities allow people to connect with others who are having a similar experience. This can help to make them feel less alone.

There are many misconceptions and stereotypes surrounding mental health conditions. Museums can help to counter these by examining the topic. They can invite visitors to explore the subject of mental health in more detail. One way of doing this is through exhibitions and events.

For World Mental Health Day in 2015, the Tate Modern in London held an interesting day of workshops and installations. Flight was a creative event produced in collaboration with six arts and mental health organisations. The day was designed to be accessible for all ages. Activities included an introduction to animation and an origami workshop. Visitors could create their own watercolour butterflies. They could also explore the themes of flight and sanctuary.

Art as psychotherapy

 The 2gether NHS Foundation Trust took a more structured approach with its recent study into art psychotherapy and museums. A group of NHS art psychotherapists delivered a programme for adults aged 18-25. The course took place at two museums in Gloucester over 18 weeks. During the 90-minute sessions, members worked on art projects based on their reactions to the museum. They were invited to explore and find pieces that they could connect with. Work took place in a private space within the museum. The sessions ended with group reflection work.

The idea of receiving psychotherapy in a museum might seem unusual. However, art psychotherapists are increasingly looking towards the rich resources of museums and galleries to aid them in their clinical work. Art therapy, or art psychotherapy, sees people expressing their feelings and experiences through art, as well as (or instead of) through words. It can be used to help people of all ages, living with a wide range of emotional or physical conditions.

Research has found that people “see themselves” in museum objects, and that reflecting on our responses to objects can tell us something about ourselves. For example, an object can evoke powerful emotions, or symbolise an aspect of our current or past experience. A desire to “wipe away the past and start again” can be reflected in a Victorian writing slate, model of a cross-section through the earth may remind u show much we “ show to others”, “what those close to me get to see”, and “what I feel about myself that hardly anyone knows”.

No man is an island

People who have mental health issues can often feel isolated. Community groups and projects can be an excellent way of combatting this. Group activities allow people to connect with others who are having a similar experience. This can help to make them feel less alone. Museums can help people feel a connection with their community. Interacting with others through arts and culture can help people to break free of the isolation that mental health conditions can cause.

When open and honest conversations about mental health issues are made possible, everybody can benefit. Museums are considered to be safe spaces where everyone is welcome. Therefore, they are an ideal place for these conversations to happen. Mental wellbeing is equally as important for health as physical wellbeing is. It should not be overlooked or marginalised.

One UK museum is dedicated to the topic of mental health. The Bethlem Museum of the Mind was opened in 2015, in the grounds of the Bethlem Royal Hospital. It holds a collection of art, archives and objects. These are related to the history of mental healthcare and treatment. It records the experiences of people with mental health conditions throughout history. It also celebrates the achievements of people who have mental health issues. Artist Grayson Perry officially opened the museum. He said, “Art should not be viewed just as a visual culture but as an essential human process of self-exploration and communication. The work the gallery and museum do is of vital importance and will create a legacy for the understanding of mental health for years to come.”

Museums on prescription

In the UK, this model is becoming more popular. For instance, GPs have been prescribing library visits as part of the Books on Prescription scheme since 2013. In 2017, Canterbury Christ Church University and University College London trialled a scheme called Museums on Prescription.

The project linked museums with health and social care professionals. The health workers were able to refer patients to museum-based activities. As part of the programme, twelve free 10-week museum sessions were created. These were aimed at lonely older adults over 65. Sessions were led by museum staff. They included talks, behind-the-scenes tours, museum object handling and creative activities. The project had a positive impact and won two public health awards.

This model is also being used in Canada. In 2018, Montreal-based medical association Médecins Francophones du Canada (MdFC) began handing out a different type prescription. These prescriptions allow patients to visit the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts for free. Referrals can be made for a variety of issues. These include depression and chronic pain. Conditions like these can prevent people from leaving the house and therefore lead to isolation. According to MdFC vice president Hélène Boyer, visiting a museum can increase feelings of wellbeing and boost serotonin levels.

(Via Museumnext, The Conversation)