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Perspect Public Health. 2010 Mar;130(2):70-7.

The meaning of art to people who use mental health services.

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  • 1School of Nursing, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, University of Nottingham, Duncan MacMillan House, Porchester Road, Mapperley, Nottingham NG2 6AA, UK.



This article reports upon a research study which explored the significance of art to people who use mental health services.


A narrative approach to data collection was chosen as the most appropriate method of gaining in-depth stories regarding the significance of art to the person. This involved the implementation of arts based workshops and in-depth individual follow-up interviews.


The study offers a contribution to the debate surrounding the most appropriate research methods for identifying the relationship between the arts and health. The findings give an indication of the unique and complex meaning attached to art. It is evident that creativity represents an integral aspect of the person's perception of themselves and that for many it is an essential component of the way they wish to live their life. The multiple benefits described by participants suggest the need for the development of creative resources within statutory mental health care, thus complementing medically based interventions.


A research approach that is creative and consistent with empowering and inclusive practice has been employed in this study. Furthermore, greater attention in research methods to the often neglected area of people's stories is advocated. Historically, in mental health care, people have felt oppressed by statutory service providers. Narrative approaches in research enable the person to become centre-stage, and, as a parallel to creative expression, the person is given a voice.

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