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Creativity and Mental Health

In my other life, as a user of mental health services and a volunteer for a number of projects aimed at improving these services, I’ve found myself increasingly involved in exploring the connections between creativity and positive mental health. This began with a contribution to a book, “Our Encounters With Madness” , a collection of carer, user and  survivor narratives about personal experiences with the mental health system in the UK.  So many of the contributors to this book found that the experience of writing had a positive effect on their mental health that four of us decided to apply for a Big Lottery “Awards For All” grant to fund creative writing workshops in Sussex and Hampshire (where most of the original contributors to the book lived).  To my surprise, we were awarded the Big Lottery grant and have been running creative writing workshops in Brighton and Eastbourne in recent months.  These have been hugely successful and we plan to publish anthologies of participants work in due course. In the meantime, you can find out more about the groups on the Writing for Recovery Facebook page.  I’m now working with one of the worship facilitators on writing an article about the relationship between creativity and positive mental health so if anyone reading this engages in any creative activity (blogging, drawing, writing, making music, or anything else) as a means of coping with mental health problems, I’d be really interested to hear from you.  Please do comment below!

On a personal level, I’ve said before that I find drawing to be an intensely therapeutic activity.  For me, its also a very mindful activity.  If I am focusing hard on drawing what I see, I find that I block out all distractions and am drawing very much in the moment.  Any mental or physical health symptoms are forgotten while I have pen to paper. I’ve found this particularly useful when travelling – sitting down for 10 or 15 minutes to just focus and draw is a very good way of escaping the tendency to act like a tourist and snap away with a camera without really experiencing anything of where I am or what I’m looking at.

Having said that, I love to use a camera and believe that photo editing can be almost as therapeutic as drawing.  Elements of mindfulness can come in useful even when taking a photo – that sense of really seeing what you’re looking at and being in the moment can help in taking a great photo.  But its the editing that I find most creative and most therapeutic.  I have lots of fairly complex photo apps on my iPad, but – like so many others – Instagram is my favourite because of its sheer simplicity, but I do crop and adjust the photo first before Instagramming it. The creativity comes in looking at a photo I’ve taken and deciding where to crop, what part of the picture will make the best image, and then experimenting with adjusting the colour, contrast, saturation, to create an image I’m happy to Instagram. And perhaps the best thing about Instagram is that even a complete amateur like me can use it and create interesting photos that I love!

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