Medical benefits of taking part in arts events are well documented. Research shows that people’s serotonin levels increase, which improves mood. The chemical change in our brains associated with this, is similar to that offered by exercise. This makes it ideal for those who, due to chronic pain, may find physical activity difficult. There is a move to change the existing culture we have of pill popping and anti depressants, towards prevention.
An initiative proposed last November by the Health Secretary may soon enable GPs to prescribe therapeutic arts events for varying ailments. This has been given the term ‘social prescribing’ and will encompass many different activities. Examples include cooking classes, gardening, bingo, library visits and concerts. It is intended to complement, not replace more traditional treatments. This is hot on the heels of a campaign in Canada which, since last November, permits doctors to prescribe entry into art exhibitions and museums. People can slow down in the calm environment of a museum or gallery, and allow their serotonin levels to rise.
There has been a vast array of supportive evidence and studies published over the last few years. A collaboration between the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and stroke survivors in Hull encouraged people to play instruments and perform. 86 percent of these people reported improvements in their physical and mental health. Dance lessons in Lambeth, given to people showing early signs of psychosis, have shown to improve concentration and communication. In Gloucestershire, hospitals now refer people with lung conditions to singing lessons.
Those people who are skeptical should remember that only one hundred years ago, sports was believed to threaten women’s fertility and distort the body. Today doctors readily prescribe exercise and soon hopefully cultural experiences too.