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Engagement in visual arts improves subjective wellbeing for adults with mental-health conditions

Lane J, Julier G, Duffy L, Payne A, Mansfield L, Kay T, John A, Meads C, Daykin N, Ball K, Tapson C, Dolan P, Testoni S, Victor C. Visual art and mental health: a systematic review of the subjective wellbeing outcomes of engaging with visual arts for adults ("working-age", 15-64 years) with diagnosed mental health conditions London: What Works Centre for Wellbeing; 2018.

Review question

      What are the subjective wellbeing outcomes of engaging in visual arts for working-age adults with diagnosed mental-health conditions?


      The potential for arts-based initiatives to promote wellbeing and mental health is well known. Visual arts interventions have been shown to reduce anxiety, promote personal growth, enhance health, improve self-esteem, enhance quality of life, and prevent readmission to psychiatric hospitals.

      This review was carried out to examine the ‘subjective wellbeing’ outcomes of engaging with the visual arts for adults with a background history of mental-health conditions.

      Subjective wellbeing examines both the positive and negative feelings that arise in individuals based on their view of the world, how they think about themselves and others, and what they do in the interactions and practices of everyday life.

How the review was done

      Study authors conducted a detailed search of research databases for studies published from January 2007 to April 2017.

      Studies that assessed the relationship between visual arts interventions and subjective wellbeing in working-aged people with diagnosed mental-health conditions were eligible for inclusion.

      A total of 4,820 articles were retrieved from the initial search, of which 14 were included in this review.

What the researchers found

      Study authors found moderate quality evidence showing that drawing mandalas can reduce symptoms of trauma for those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Low-quality evidence showed that taking part in arts and crafts can improve quality of life for those suffering from PTSD.

      Engaging in cultural activities was found to improve self-reported health and reduce symptoms of exhaustion for women with burnout.

      Other studies in the review provided evidence that participation in the visual arts can give individuals the potential to enhance their wellbeing. Themes that emerged from these studies included: social enrichment and relationship building through creating art with others; using the arts intervention as a stepping stone for engaging in other arts projects; feeling a sense of achievement from completing an art project; and finding a distraction or escape from stigma or the trials of day-to-day life.

      Some negative elements were also found to stem from engagement with the visual arts. This included stress and pressure felt to complete activities, and the fear that the end of an intervention would mean the return to a world of anxiety, decreased confidence, and social isolation.


      Overall, the review showed that the subjective wellbeing outcomes for adults starting visual arts programs are generally positive. This applies to both men and women across the studies.

      Authors concluded that research in this field lacks the necessary resources and infrastructure to support the development of sustainable practices and interventions.

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DISCLAIMER These summaries are provided for informational purposes only. They are not a substitute for advice from your own health care professional. The summaries may be reproduced for not-for-profit educational purposes only. Any other uses must be approved by the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal (

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