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J R Soc Promot Health. 2006 May;126(3):121-7.

Mental health and arts participation: the state of the art in England.

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  • 1Department of Nursing, University of Central Lancashire, 317 Brook, Preston PR1 2HE.


Although participation in arts activity is believed to have important mental health and social benefits for people with mental health needs, the evidence base is currently weak. This article reports the first phase of a study intended to support the development of stronger evidence. Objectives for the first phase were to map current participatory arts activity, to identify appropriate indicators and to develop measures for use in the second phase of the research. A survey of participatory arts projects for people with mental health needs aged 16 to 65 in England, identified via the Internet and relevant organizations, was carried out to map the scale and scope of activity and to establish the nature of current approaches to evaluation. The results indicate that the scope of activity, in terms of projects' settings, referral sources, art forms and participation is impressively wide. In terms of scale, however, projects reported low funding and staffing levels that may have implications for the feasibility of routine evaluation in this field. Current approaches to evaluation were limited, but entailed considerable effort and ingenuity, suggesting that projects are keen to demonstrate their benefits. The survey has enabled us to build on the best evaluation practice identified to develop a measure for assessing the mental health, social inclusion and empowerment outcomes of arts participation for people with mental health needs. For the second phase of the study we will work with arts and mental health projects, using the measure alongside qualitative work in a realistic evaluation design, in order to identify the characteristics of effective projects.

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