Arts for the Blues is a collaborative research project between artists, therapists, universities, NHS trusts and cultural institutions. It has been developed to address a vital need in the North West; an area which has high levels of mental health problems, exacerbated by economic conditions and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now, the team behind the project, which includes staff from Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust, Edge Hill University and the University of Salford, has been awarded £145,000 from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) to build on the initial positive results of the programme.
Currently, mental health provision mainly focusses on talking-based therapies. This excludes many people for whom talking therapy is not a suitable treatment; including those who struggle with verbal communication or don’t have a strong command of English.
The high levels of drop-out from primary care mental health services – calculated at 63% by NHS Digital in 2021 – show that other options are needed. By using a creative psychological therapy that encompasses movement, visual arts, drama, music, creative writing and talking, people can experience and express emotions, share with others, and develop useful techniques to use outside of therapy.
Over the last five years, the project has worked with hundreds of adults and children in schools and mental health services across the North West. Results from adults showed decrease in anxiety and an upturn in wellbeing. A pilot trial with 56 children suffering emotional or behavioural difficulties was similarly successful; 12 months after the intervention, there were sustained improvements in their quality of life, quality of sleep and overall wellbeing.
The AHRC funding boost will facilitate working with healthcare and cultural institutions in the region, providing training to develop the skills to deliver the interventions themselves as well as co-produce a strategy of scaling up the Arts for the Blues model across the North West.
Dr Joanna Omylinska-Thurston, Counselling Psychologist at Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Trust and Lecturer in Counselling and Psychotherapy at the University of Salford, is also a co-investigator in this project and co-founder of Arts for the Blues. She said:
“I’m particularly interested in bringing Arts for the Blues to Improving Access to Psychological Psychotherapies (IAPT), to offer clients a wider choice of treatments in order to address significant health inequalities in the region. Clients and staff in the NHS ask for creative interventions and I am delighted we received funding from AHRC to offer Arts for the Blues to them. This sounds really exciting, and I look forward to enabling this across the North West.”
Professor Vicky Karkou, Director for the Research Centre for Arts and Wellbeing at Edge Hill University, is the principal investigator and said of the news:
“Arts for the Blues has already shown how it can have a tremendous impact, using a new approach to tackle a massive problem. I’d like to thank AHRC for this support, which enables us to expand on this progress and improve even more people’s lives across the North West.”
Dr Scott Thurston, Reader in English and Creative Writing at the University of Salford, and co-investigator on the project, said:
“It was really refreshing that the AHRC recognises the impact of arts and culture, nature and other forms of community assets in addressing health inequalities and decided to focus this funding on scalability. We feel that Arts for the Blues has so much more to give to the North-West and can’t wait to find out how best to expand what we do.”