image of Paul Hogg‘Art washes from the soul the dust of everyday life’ – Pablo Picasso

Two NHS professionals, Paul Hogg, Trust Secretary, Bradford District Care NHS Foundation Trust and John Walsh, Practice Manager, York Street Health Practice, Leeds Community Healthcare NHS Trust come together to celebrate art as a therapeutic tool in mental health recovery and raise awareness of mental health.

Cleaning and washing are always needed in our houses, hearts, relationships and streets. When we apply the word to ourselves we perhaps think of a release of tension and a purifying process set against the daily pressures and dust of modern life.  It is something that might help keep us well in the present moment.  Art can be such a washing.  Art is therapeutic and can be a healing agent.  It can also challenge us to make what we see and wish to express.  Picasso is not alone in his views.  Carl Jung the eminent psycho-therapist when interviewed in 1960 and asked what were the basic factors for human happiness, named five ingredients.  One was ‘the faculty for perceiving beauty in art and nature’.  Art isn’t just creating, it’s perceiving. It’s not just making, it’s seeing.  It’s when a work of art captures our minds and we feel a deep resonance.  Art is both in the artist and the audience.

There are probably many reasons why art helps us.  We will briefly mention three. Art works because it is creative, inclusive and has a unitive energy.  Art is creative as it offers a key space for us to tap into our innate gifts and insight – we can draw, paint or colour as we feel and see.  We all have incredible energies and potential and art can be a powerful medium of expression.  Art is inclusive.  Art is born in us.  We can all grow in some way through painting, sculpture, or photography.  Art also brings people together – even the solitary artist when he or she completes their work finds others drawn to be inspired and engaged with the piece.  Art is also a unitive energy. It can draw our senses, mind and soul together in a matrix of discovery.

The use of art as a form of positive mental wellbeing is acknowledged by many people who themselves experience mental illness and use art as a positive form of expression. Famous artists such as Vincent Van Gogh painted some of his most celebrated and influential art while struggling with frequent bouts of depression and anxiety.

The local provider of mental health services across Bradford, Airedale, Craven and Wharfedale wanted to mark World Mental Health Day in a meaningful way and combat mental health stigma.  One of the authors had the idea of art as a medium of celebration and community by having an open space for the arts and mental health. This space was to celebrate the creativity of local people who have experienced mental health problems with them sharing and viewing their work together.  A venue was found and people and their art invited – and the art flowed through in its hundreds.  It was as if all this artistic possibility was waiting for a space to fly to. The space is called the 1in4 art exhibition to recognise the fact that one in four people will suffer with mental health problems.

It is not just the art itself but the comments made by the artists that make this exhibition so powerful.  One artist exhibiting work reflected, ‘ I use creativity and particularly painting as an essential part of my life.  When my head feels knotted, stressed and blocked, I find that painting often frees it up again and reconnects me with my energy, ideas and enthusiasm for life! I love colour, the texture and feel of paint, and messing around with creative stuff. Creativity opens up a different part of my mind and connects with thoughts and feelings that are difficult to identify or express.’  Another artist described the sense of relief can be almost indescribable as they simply sit, think and paint.  Another said that whilst drawing and painting their mind is fully occupied and not thinking about their mental or physical health problems. Staff have also been positively affected. There has been a tangible connection and happiness in this work. The occupational therapists who use art as a therapy tool; the community workers actively organising group events; the service users and unpaid carers themselves proudly championing their mental health stories – all people coming together to celebrate art and raise mental health awareness.

The event also raises the deep need for focusing on mental health issues in the NHS and the importance of parity of esteem – treating mental health on a par with physical health conditions.  This work is all about people and communities working together.  Recently Bradford broke the World Record for the most people making a human chain – holding hands as a gesture of community, love and cohesion.  This event of the ‘longest chain of people making heart-shaped hand gestures’ is a symbol of togetherness. The work of the 1in4 art exhibition expresses this same humanitarian spirit.  The exhibition, organised by staff from Bradford District Care NHS Foundation Trust, will be open to the public at Salts Mill, Saltaire from 6 October to 10 October 2016, 10am to 5pm Monday to Friday and 10am to 6pm Saturday to Sunday.  We hope you can visit.

Art is something for us all. We don’t have to be a Leonardo or a Michelangelo.  We just have to be us.  Art is all about our gifts and our creativity.  Art can make a positive contribution to a person’s wellbeing.  It is not the only thing we need but it can be a key factor.  We hope that this event helps people celebrate art and talk about mental health, long after World Mental Health Day is over.  In that lies much hope and promise for our future.

Follow the conversation on Twitter about the 1in4 Art Exhibition at: #1in4art