People who suffer from depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders are frequently given a wide range of advice for treatment of these conditions. In addition to doctor-prescribed medications and talk therapy, those with mental disorders are encouraged to travel, live a healthy lifestyle, and participate in activities outside of their comfort zone. While these remedies often present varying degrees of success, as the efficacy of these treatment options depends highly upon individual circumstances, it is still useful to consider all potential options for the treatment of a psychological problem. In that vein, new research suggests another avenue for improving mental health, which is developing an engagement in the arts, whether that be active or passive.
Depression can be caused by a number of factors, both genetic and environmental, but one of the main causes of depression can be the loss of a significant companion in a person’s life. For example, someone who has experienced the loss of a spouse can be prone to extended periods of depression, during which they isolate themselves and lose interest in outdoor activity. For patients under circumstances like these, recommended treatment options include participating in cultural events, as the feeling of belonging to a community has been shown to treat the symptoms of depression. This engagement doesn’t have to be active, as passive engagement in the arts, which includes visiting a museum or watching a movie, has also been shown to have a positive effect on mood and one’s overall sense of well-being.
Cultural engagement is an effective treatment for a range of mental illness because by necessity, it combines a number of factors which act as deterrents to the symptoms of illness, which include cognitive stimulation, social interaction, and physical activity. Such activities are particularly useful in the treatment of depression, which is often exacerbated by the effects of social isolation and lack of activity it causes, in a kind of vicious cycle of illness. According to research conducted on the topic, cultural engagement helps to prevent depression for people of all races, ages, genders, and social classes, and even personality, with introverts and extroverts alike benefitting from the feeling of belonging to a community that cultural engagement enables.
Depression is a particular concern among older people, who are more likely to develop the illness as a result of the limits imposed on their lifestyles resulting from changes in life circumstances. As such, encouraging cultural engagement is of particular concern for the elderly, who are far less likely to pursue novel communal experiences than younger people are. Activities that can improve the mental health of elderly people include creative ones like painting, writing, jewelry-making, and singing. Such activities also provide people with an opportunity to socialize with like-minded individuals, as they are often conducted in communal settings like classrooms and libraries.
While creativity is an essential element of cultural engagement, a person doesn’t have to themselves be creative in order to enjoy the mood-boosting effects of creativity. A mere appreciation of the creativity of others, whether that be in understanding the details and symbolism of a painting or appreciating the composition of a piece of music, stimulates the brain in similar ways as creating something and offers similar benefits. Additionally, appreciating the arts helps the brain age better, as, the mental stimulation and novelty it provides acts as a deterrent against the degenerative effects of age. It’s worth noting that preventing the onset of depression is perhaps as useful as treating the effects of depression when it arises, and a varied and healthy lifestyle is essential for doing so, particularly as a person gets older. Maintaining an appreciation of the arts, in addition to eating healthy foods, exercising, having an active social life, and finding purpose in one’s work and contributions to the world have all been shown to reduce one’s chances of developing a mental illness as time goes on and bodies deteriorate.