Published on: 24th February 2023
At a time when people are becoming more aware of the need to look after their mental health, a support service in Stockport is drawing upon art to paint the way to a brighter future.
David Milligan-Croft spent 30 years working as an art director across the globe for the advertising industry. He’s written two novels and won over 100 awards including at the coveted Cannes art awards, the Design and Art Direction awards, and on The One Show American advertising awards.
Now, he works as a technical instructor on Arden Ward, a mental health ward run by Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust at Stepping Hill Hospital in Stockport. The ward provides 24-hour assessment, care and treatment for males between the ages of 18-65 with a variety of mental health needs.
David is part of an occupational therapy team who use everyday activities to aid mental, physical, developmental, and emotional challenges patients might face.
Explaining the mental health benefits of practicing art, David said:
“Art groups are an excellent way for occupational therapists to assess whether a patient can listen and comprehend instruction, their ability to concentrate (and for how long), and how they socialise with others.
“When a person engages in art their brain releases dopamine, but it’s the process of creating something that gives the person the benefit - not necessarily the end result.
“Engaging in the arts improves brain plasticity and increases neural connections, the result of that is your mind functions in a new way and can improve itself as time goes on. Importantly for us, art can aid in avoiding relapse and readmission to hospital.”
The use of art to aid mental health can extend to more than people needing direct support. As most of the country faces the stresses of the cost-of-living increase and more, David says picking up a pen or paint brush can bring anybody therapeutic benefits.
“Practising arts can reduce cortisol levels (markers for stress), reduce levels of depression and anxiety, increase self-respect, self-worth and self-esteem, and encourage and stimulate re-engagement with the wider social world.
“So many people say ‘I can’t do art’, but once they start their creativity takes over and it all comes naturally. It isn’t what you create that matters, it’s the process of doing it.
“It’s a relaxing process that’s simple to do and accessible for most people, I’d encourage anybody to take it up in some form and reap the benefits.”