Following Mental Health Awareness Week, dot-art’s Director Lucy Byrne explores the value of wellbeing and how art and creative expression can be a key factor in maintaining a positive psyche.
Words: Lucy Byrne for Business Post Magazine
As I write this, Mental Health Awareness Week has just come to an end. It was wonderful to see so many businesses and organisations get behind the campaign both locally and nationally. To me this epitomises the mainstream acceptance that worldwide, one in four people will be affected by mental health issues at some point in their lives. Fortunately, it now seems that the stigma once attached to mental health issues has largely been removed and the public has accepted that these important discussions need to be had, openly and honestly.
However, when it comes to the workplace, addressing these issues can sometimes prove tricky. Employers keen to support their staff and ensure open channels for dialogue, may not know where to start in practical terms. Some may even not have considered that their employees’ wellbeing is partly their responsibility. It is impractical to ignore the issue however; staff who are stressed, anxious or unhappy do not constitute a productive workforce. Sickness absence and staff turnover increase and productivity levels fall.
In Liverpool we are very lucky; innovative organisations such as YinYan (bringing Yoga and Pilates into workplaces) and Mindfit (introducing Mindfulness sessions to businesses) have for several years now been helping the city’s business people improve their wellbeing, which is now generally accepted as vital to maintain. However, there is strong evidence that the arts can play a huge part in this too. In a report entitled “Restoring the Balance: the effects of arts participation on wellbeing and health”, Margaret Hodge, Former Minister for Culture and Tourism said:
“The importance of wellbeing as a concept is gaining increasing recognition. Money and income may contribute to people’s sense of wellbeing but the two are not always completely interdependent. Our wellbeing is vital to our health and to our effectiveness at work and in the community. The place of art in creating and supporting feelings of wellbeing is vital.”
According to another recent report, the arts should be offered on prescription by the NHS more as an alternative to more traditional methods of primary care. The document claims that 20% of patients visit GPs for primarily welfare, rather than medical, problems and adds that social prescribing is a “growing and live area of interest”. In one pilot study, arts prescribing led to a 28% reduction in demand for GP services and falls in patients requiring repeat care after 12 and 18 months.
Here at dot-art, we have developed a programme of “Creative Lunch Hours”. Based on the art classes we have been offering the general public since 2011, these series of one hour lunchtime workshops in partnership with businesses and building owners, are designed to encourage people to get creative and improve their wellbeing, without leaving work.
We are all guilty of eating lunch at our desks from time to time, as well as being permanently glued to our phones and continually multitasking. These sessions ensure that you spend one hour a week focusing solely on the task at hand. Being creative through drawing even for just a short period of time on a regular basis can help you focus and create a sense of wellbeing, helping you perform better both in and out of work.
Another aspect of the workplace which can either have a positive or negative effect on mental health is our physical environment. Research by Exeter University’s School of Psychology found that employees who have control over the design and layout of their workspace are not only happier and healthier, they’re also up to 32% more productive. As an article in the Guardian from 2016 entitled “Art works: how art in the office boosts staff productivity” states:
“Contrary to what your boss might say, being distracted at work is not always a bad thing. If the object of your distraction is a work of art, it can actually boost productivity, lower stress and increase wellbeing.”
Large multi-nations such as Google, Deutsch Bank and UBS have always collected and displayed art, but smaller firms have in the past, often been put off by perceived cost. dot-art offers an innovative art rental scheme, allowing businesses to affordably display contemporary art sourced from local artists and rotate on a regular basis. Some firms even set up an art committee, allowing staff to have input into the works to be shown during each rental period.
Incorporating art into your workplace, whether that be on the walls or with staff getting creative, can have huge benefits to your whole team and the business as a whole, including; attracting and retaining the best staff, creating a sense of pride and belonging, a sense of distinctiveness, increased productivity and creativity within teams and providing a public demonstration of your support of the local cultural community. So, if the wellbeing argument won’t cut it with your FD, it will also have a positive impact on the bottom line!