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It’s apparent that lockdown has inspired a revolution in art and craft, but it is clear that isolation is taking a toll on the nation’s mental health. Mental Health Awareness Week 2020 (MHAW), hosted by the Mental Health Foundation during the period 18-24 May, finds us amid an unprecedented period of social isolation and economic uncertainty. We hear from Eddie Armer, who volunteers at West Kent Mind and is the author of two books for Search Press, his thoughts on creativity and mental health.

For more information on MHAW 2020 and the Mental Health Foundation visit their website.


I believe that creative activities have a very positive effect on our mental health and wellbeing, especially when it feels as though the weight of the world is on our shoulders. With this blog for Search Press in mind, last Friday I took the opportunity to ask a group of adults, ‘How does being creative (crafts, painting, etc.) help with your mental health issues?’ The consensus was that ‘It acted as a distraction’.
 
This is true, it is a distraction, but something is taking place mentally when you are engaged in being creative. It is a state of mind that we as artists are very familiar with and can languish in for long periods of time.
 
Often our thoughts and feelings can be overwhelming and are largely outside of our conscious control. Art therapy programmes have demonstrated that art and crafts provide a safe space for reflection on mental health issues and allow us to limit the impact of distressing thoughts and feelings.

Eddie continues: Being creative requires focus, so whether you are making a painting or doing a drawing, you will be concentrating. Concentration brings you firmly into the present or, to put it another way, allows you to live-in-the-moment, hoorah! When we are living-in-the-moment, it protects us from our butterfly mind and its propensity to flit between visiting the past and guessing the future. These are not good places to be in if you are feeling particularly vulnerable. The safest place to be is here, in the present.
 
There are many ways to become present, but for me it is mainly through art and playing music that I can easily reach this state of mind. For many years I have run a music workshop for adults with mental health issues. And for two hours each week the group members have an opportunity to come together and escape their problems. The time passes very fast, and a lot of fun is generated. This, I put down to being creative and being present.

This process of ‘living-in-the-moment’ is a key component of mindfulness. Paying more attention to the present moment, to your thoughts and feelings can improve your mental wellbeing. Some mindful activities include meditation and Yoga and, of course, art and craft!


It’s not just clarity that creativity provides. Enjoyment, self-confidence, and belief in oneself are all positive outcomes of engaging with the arts as Sharon, one of the service users at West Kent Mind, shared with Eddie. Sharon is a member of the music group and struggles with mental health issues. Sharon's response gives an additional perspective to the question.
 
SHARON B:
Creativity has allowed me to explore what I am capable and comfortable with doing. I have found something that I like to do, and I have now got confidence to go ahead with it, so I think on the arts side of things it gives me a self-confidence and pride in something that I have created, feeling that I am capable! I have never sat and doodled! Music creativity! Well I don’t consider me playing a ukulele creative! But being able to play something again is a confidence booster, the music sessions I have at Mind give me confidence and a little self-respect.

A crocheted 'Rainbow of Hope' by Anna Anna Nikipirowicz

 
This year the theme for Mental Health Awareness Week is kindness. Whether it is windows full of rainbows or crafts donated to local hospitals and care facilities we have seen the kindness of our communities in spades, but it is easy to forget to be kind to yourself. One in four people will experience a mental health difficulty in their lifetime. When we talk about staying safe at this difficult time it’s important to take not only our physical health but also our mental health into account by staying in touch with family and friends, staying active where we can and forgiving ourselves for the afternoon in front of the telly with that seven season box set!
 
It is times like these where peace of mind can be hard to find but art and craft remain a gateway to quieting your mind and bringing joy to yourself and the community.

Eddie can be seen here at the Skiffle for Change project, a music group founded for service users at West Kent Mind and funded in part by Time to Change, a growing social movement working to end mental health discrimination. For more information on Mind in the West Kent area and to access services they provide visit their website.

West Kent Mind Logo Time for Change Logo

Eddie lives in Kent, UK, and works with vulnerable adults through art and music. He also writes about drawing and is a contributor to Artist and Illustrator Magazine. He believes creativity in art and music are intrinsically linked.

  


Other books of interest if you’re interested in mindfulness.

                    




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