The intersection of mental health and art

Nafeesa Arshad, Digital Art School Producer, and Haley Moyse Fenning, Head of Impact, at Hospital Rooms, discuss the intersection of mental healthcare and art. They highlight some of the charity’s current art installations, ‘the transformative impact of integrating creativity in mental healthcare facilities’, and the impact of the Hospital Rooms Digital Art School initiative, now re-launching, on bringing creative intervention to mental health service-users.

In 2016, artist, Tim A. Shaw, and curator, Niamh White, now co-founders of arts and mental health charity, Hospital Rooms, first stepped into an inpatient mental health unit. They were visiting a close friend who had been hospitalised following a suicide attempt, and were shocked to see the condition the ward was in — not just plain, clinical, and uninspiring, but actively dilapidated. Mental health service-users would later tell us that their clinical environment was 'dreary', 'bleak', and certainly not a place that tells patients arriving — often at one of the lowest moments of their lives — that this is a place where you will be cared for; the place where you will recover.

Fast-forward eight years and, under Tim and Niamh's direction, our growing team at Hospital Rooms brings the highest quality artwork and creativity activity into these spaces, working with acclaimed artists to catalyse a fundamental shift in the way we consider and treat people with the most difficult of mental health diagnoses. To date we have completed 23 projects nationwide, transforming the clinical environment of NHS mental health services ranging from adult acute, specialist, and forensic, to psychiatric intensive care (PICU) and child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS).

A key success of our wide-ranging art programme — which includes mural installations by artists, Sutapa Biswas, Hurvin Anderson, Dame Sonia Boyce, Anish Kapoor, and Julian Opie, is our co-design model. Project teams work closely with service-users and staff through an extensive research and development process, to get to know them, their clinical environment, and their aspirations for the space. Artists then lead an intensive season of creativity, facilitating workshops to inspire creativity and establish themes, colours, and mediums, in collaboration with the service-users, which will underpin the resulting mural design.

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