Creative Expression and Mental Health
Since the beginning of recorded history humans have benefited physically and emotionally via creative expression. More recently the World Health Organization has defined health “not only as the absence of disease or infirmity but rather as complete physical, mental, and social well-being.”
Creative expression is key to the management of the personal and social costs of unaddressed or under addressed depression and anxiety. Mental illness is the most prevalent of debilitating conditions.
Four categories of creative expression are musical expression, visual expression, creative movement, and creative writing. Each can benefit health and well-being done alone or in combination.
Expression is the key word rather than passive participation. While it is enjoyable to eat a meal, it is more enjoyable to create it and even more so to do it communally.
It is key not to be caught up with the product of creative expression. Creative expression is the means to obtaining improved health and well-being.
Musical expression is a means to accessing improved health and well-being. There is also evidence that musical expression can result in better pain management. Musical expression can result in “a calming of neural pathways.” This can result in a reduction of symptoms, use of medical appointments, stress level and increase of emotional balance. Musical expression is also associated with self-reported reductions of anxiety, depression, and an increase of self-esteem.
Art helps in the expression of “things too painful to say.” Art can help self-insulate against strong negative human emotions related to illness and infirmity. An increase in positive emotions is also often self-reported.
Healing and health are also associated with creative motor movement such as in dance or in “semi-meditative” activity as is the practice of Tai Chi. Perhaps the mind body connection can be seen here most clearly.
Expressive writing has been shown to improve mental and physical health. Written expression is also linked to “long term benefits related to health and emotions.” Expressive writing in the form of poetry is often given credit for assisting in the access of thoughts and emotions that are otherwise not accessible.
Therefore, the four expressive means music, art, creative movement and writing can be very healing and sadly, are underemployed or discussed.