Arts and Mental Health Child & Family Psychology Finnish approaches to wellbeing iTHRIVE

Arts and culture in NHS children’s services and how you can get involved

children colouring in against a beautiful blue wall in Yves St Laurent's garden, Morocco

In this post I outline reasons to take notice of the health benefits of the arts and culture, and ways you can get involved and be supported to progress the work in your area.

How does this affect our roles in childrens’ services?

For those of us working in mental health services for children, young people and their families, it can be frustrating and disheartening when our interventions and efforts don’t quite suit everyone. Our tools commonly include treatments such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Family Therapy, and medication – alongside the most important asset; the relationships between these families and ourselves.

All of these treatments are evidence-based, and we know that current services are successful for only around half of those who enter CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services). THRIVE is the current national transformation of child and family services. THRIVE-like services draw on the networks around a child, seeking to maximise their potential for engagement and accommodate their individual preferences. Help can take the form of intervention with any well-placed professional – mental health or not. How much are the treatments we currently offer assets-based and led by the interests of the young person?

How can the arts and culture improve outcomes?

There is wide-ranging evidence that the arts and culture play important roles in keeping us well, and aiding recovery. The WHO’s report on the role of arts in health outlines the benefits of arts-based interventions as low-risk, highly cost-effective, and holistic options for complex problems, often with no medical solutions.

Research shows that children and adolescents respond well to interventions that utilise creativity and cultural content, such as music-making, spoken word, and drama groups (2, 3). But findings are inconsistent; there are limitations around research designs, and there remains a need for systematic research (one of the aims of the GM iTHRIVE Arts, Culture and Mental Health Programme.)  A recent review discusses the contribution arts activities make to building resilience. Zarobe & Bungay (2017) report positive effects on self-confidence, self-esteem, relationship building and a sense of belonging (4).

Nasi Park in Tampere, Finland. In 2019 Finland’s Government completed their Recommendations (7) reflecting that culturally, play, arts and culture are emphasised for their benefits for learning and development, and in health and social care

Do you engage with culture and the arts? Does this affect your mood, your ability to reflect or express yourself?

Researchers find that that arts-led interventions can positively impact mental health through absorption and distraction, and improving communication, interactions and relationships (5, 6), paving a way to a greater sense of achievement and agency. The versatility inherent to the arts offer attractive and age-appropriate routes towards sustainable recovery. What is critical, a young person told me, is that finding ways to build on existing interests and skills means that the way to recovery is located within them, and not externally in a therapy, therapist or medication, and in this way is thus more sustainable.

Patient preference and safety

A critical issue is the consistent finding that arts-led interventions are low-risk, and do not commonly result in unwanted or harmful ‘side effects.’ Further to this is that complications can arise from the messages inherent to prescribing medication to young people whose difficulties are complex in origin and relate broadly to social issues. Creative engagement can help avoid a medical narrative for a non-medical condition at an impressionable age.

A key task of therapeutic interventions is sense-making, or formulation. Creative and arts-led options are a great and age-appropriate way to facilitate this process.

What you can do

Throughout July we’ll be running features including a special edition newsletter and vlogs, this work will feature in national publications, and we’re inviting you to get involved and become an Ambassador!

Become an Arts, Health & Culture Ambassador –

Join us as part of the wider systems transformation. As an ambassador you will:

  • Receive the tools and research findings to help your team engage with this developing evidence base.
  • Be invited to bespoke training to help you better understand why this evidence base is important, and how it can influence your work
  • Learn about the proof of concepts currently underway in Greater Manchester and become better equipped to understand and support this new ground


Ask us anything

Submit your questions on arts, culture and mental health here and we’ll be answering throughout July

Join our Community of Practice

To join the GM i-THRIVE Community of Practice  and receive brief newletters from the GMiTHRIVE team on all things THRIVE, please contact: or follow this link to sign up.

Join us on social media

Follow us GM iTHRIVE @GMiTHRIVE and my account @communikatt, manager of the GM iTHRIVE Arts, Culture & Mental Health Programme
Use the hashtag #GMMaking to be part of this emerging conversation in Greater Manchester.

Creative Care Kits

Charities, businesses and the arts have joined forces to support thousands of young people across Greater Manchester during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The initiative, led by Greater Manchester Combined Authority, will see 22,000 Creative Care kits distributed to young people who are not online, and so may be feeling more isolated and lonely during this difficult time.Each kit contains 36 pages of activities, hints and tips on protecting your mental wellbeing and a set of art materials. As well as giving young people something to do, the kits will help create a sense of connection at a time when they are not able to rely on face-to-face interactions.

You can download the kit here and check out the press release


Thank you for reading – please share if you found this useful. Let’s get more people recognising and thinking about the benefits of embedding the arts into healthcare!


(1) Fancourt, D., & Finn., S. (2019) What is the evidence on the role of the arts in improving health and well-being? A scoping review. World Health Organisation, Nov 2017

(2) McFerran, K., Garrido, S. & Saarikallio, S. (2016) A critical interpretive synthesis of the literature linking music and adolescent mental health. Youth & Society. Vol. 48, No. 4, 521–538.

(3) Daykin N, Orme J, Evans, D. et al. (2008) The impact of participation in performing arts on adolescent health and behaviour: A systematic review of the literature. Journal of Health Psychology 2008; 13: 251–64.

(4) Zarobe,  L., & Bungay, H., (2017) The role of arts activities in developing resilience and mental well-being in children and young people a rapid review of the literature. Vol 137 No 6 l Perspectives in Public Health 337

(5) Mental Health Foundation (2019)

(6) All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing. (2017). Creative Health: The Arts for Health and Wellbeing. Available at:

(7) Ministry of Family Affairs and Social Services, & Ministry for European Affairs, Culture and Sport, Finland (2019) Recommendation for improving the availability and accessibility of arts and culture in social welfare and healthcare: including health promotion.


I'm a British clinical psychologist with a research background. I manage the Greater Manchester i-THRIVE Arts, Culture and Mental Health Programme, part of the national transformation of children's services. I also have an NHS clinical role in Lancaster and Morecambe working with children, young people and families (CAMHS). I began this blog in 2017 to record a WCMT Travelling Fellowship, from a research role at Arts for Health, Manchester Metropolitan University. I began clinical psychology training (DCLinPsy, Lancaster) in 2010, and studied the role of creativity in bipolar disorder, because of the known links, and partly due to my own experiences of creatively managing extremes of mood in adolescence and throughout my 20s. I have worked in several university psychology research departments including Manchester University in suicide prevention, the Spectrum Centre for Mental Health Research at Lancaster University (notable for service user expertise), and on the Dementia & Imagination research programme.

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