Creative approach to mental health underfunded despite evidence it works

George Heard/Stuff.co.nz

Ōtautahi Creative Spaces.

Christchurch man Gary Pickering says exploring his artistic side has helped him turn his life around.

"It's got me off the streets . . . it's got me off doing crime. I don't do that stuff anymore."

Pickering is part of a group of nine young men from mental health residential rehabilitation facility Te Korimako, who have been coming to Ōtautahi Creative Spaces' workshops every Wednesday afternoon for a year.

Gary Pickering says exploring his creative side at Otautahi Creative Spaces has helped his mental health.
GEORGE HEARD/STUFF

Gary Pickering says exploring his creative side at Otautahi Creative Spaces has helped his mental health.

For the past ten weeks, the group have been working on creating a waharoa, or gateway, to Creative Ōtautahi's premises using wood carving techniques.

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Pickering said his mental health had improved since starting the workshop. 

Wood carving teacher Caine Tauwhare helps Gary Pickering with a project to build a waharoa, or gateway, for Otautahi's ...
GEORGE HEARD/STUFF

Wood carving teacher Caine Tauwhare helps Gary Pickering with a project to build a waharoa, or gateway, for Otautahi's Creative Spaces' premises.

"Instead of doing nothing during the day I come here once a week and I love it. Mentally, physically and emotionally [I feel] really good."

Ōtautahi Creative Spaces was set up in response to the earthquakes in Christchurch, where there had been a huge increase in demand for mental health services.

Despite good results, the initiative, based at the Phillipstown Community Hub, was struggling to get enough funding to keep running its six weekly workshops.

Gary Pickering is part of a group of nine young men recovering from mental health problems, who have been coming to ...
GEORGE HEARD/STUFF

Gary Pickering is part of a group of nine young men recovering from mental health problems, who have been coming to Otautahi Creative Spaces for a year.

Manager Kim Morton said other district health boards funded arts and health programmes "to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars", but her organisation had received no funding from the Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB).

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The organisation's call for funding came as new UK research found art therapy improved quality of life, aided recovery from illness and saved money across the health and social services.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing researched art therapy over two years, including hundreds of interviews and dozens of case studies with patients, medical and social-work professionals, artists and arts administrators, academics, policy-makers and politicians.

Gary Pickering says he feels really good mentally, physically and emotionally when he does artistic work.
GEORGE HEARD/STUFF

Gary Pickering says he feels really good mentally, physically and emotionally when he does artistic work.

Ōtautahi Creative Spaces supported 65 artists with a wide range of mental health issues. Their waiting list was growing with an increasing number of referrals from CDHB mental health services.

Morton said she had seen people making "incredible changes in their lives" after taking up arts projects.

People had reported quitting smoking, doing more exercise, reducing their medication and needing less support from mental health services. They had also built friendships and learned new skills.

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Outcomes for the group of young Te Korimako residents had been "amazing".

They had become more confident, were taking leadership roles, sharing their cultural knowledge and one of them had gone on to achieve paid work.

Morton said creative programmes were cost effective in comparison with clinical interventions, and a relatively small but consistent funding increase would allow the organisation to do much more.

CDHB general manager planning, funding and decision support Carolyn Gullery said the district health board supported and agreed with research showing art therapy was beneficial for mental health.

"However, within the constraints of the  mental health budget, the CDHB needs to prioritise funding to the required clinical services, therefore is unable to provide funding to the Ōtautahi Creative space for the work they do."

Arts Access Aotearoa executive director Richard Benge said most creative spaces in New Zealand were underfunded and under-resourced.

The new research showed that the positive impact of the arts applied throughout life.

 - Stuff

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