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‘Art for Anxiety’ pieces go on display at NHS Maudsley

Art created by people with lived experience of mental health is being displayed in Maudsley Hospital in partnership with Bethlem Gallery, South London, to promote the importance of art therapy in supporting mental wellbeing. The exhibition, orgnanised by national charity, Ambient Support, runs throughout May to coincide with Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW) from 15 to 21 May.

Not-for-profit health and social care provider, Ambient Support, launched their ‘Art for Anxiety’ workshops in several of their mental health services in London to provide safe and encouraging creative spaces for participants to explore MHAW’s 2023 theme of ‘anxiety’.

In partnership with NHS Trust South London and Maudsley, the art created at Ambient’s sessions is being displayed in the Bethlem Gallery space in Maudsley Hospital to promote the value of art therapy for mental wellbeing and for all visitors and patients to view and enjoy from 01 May to 31 May.  

Carmel Woolmington, Art Strategy Manager at Bethlem Gallery and SLaM Trust, says:

We are delighted to partner with Ambient Support for Mental Health Awareness Week. As organisations championing greater awareness and understanding of mental health, we share an ethos to shape a creative landscape which encourages this awareness, and support artists with lived experience of mental health services. 

Drawing on this year’s theme of anxiety, we hope this exhibition highlights the therapeutic impact of arts practice; that art can be a powerful form of expression; and a way to respond to anxious thoughts and feelings.” 

Anxiety is a normal emotion but sometimes it can get out of control and become a mental health problem. The focus on anxiety for Mental Health Awareness Week will increase awareness and understanding of this, while research suggests that creative art activities can have a positive impact on mental health.

Melissa Charlton, Ambient Occupational Therapy Technician, helped to facilitate and co-ordinate the art sessions and observed the participants’ experience. Melissa says:

Our mental health art sessions enabled the people we support at Ambient to tap into their inner thoughts, feelings, and experiences of anxiety through creative expression. We encouraged them to talk about the images they created and to begin to look to themselves for meaning and insight. 

Combined with staff supporting the art sessions, it helped participants promote self-expression, increase self-awareness and self-worth, and decrease stress and anxiety. All who participated emanated satisfaction and enjoyment.

An Occupational Therapy Assessment evaluated the impact of the workshops and found 92% of participants demonstrated emotional connection and focus throughout the art session, 84% stayed engaged and focused, while 76% sought to challenge themselves. 

Some participants created artwork that depicted their thoughts and experiences around anxiety, whilst others used the art session to work through anxiety itself. Ambient created a video capturing the highlights of the art sessions together with some of the artists holding their newly created artwork. View it HERE

David, a participant of the art group, says: 

“I enjoyed the art session very much, the painting that I did was in the moment. I think the art session helps to take your mind off any anxiety or problems you may be having”.

Gary, a participant of the art group, says:

“The art session was therapeutic, and it allows you to be artistic. My drawing of a skull surrounded by words depicts my anxiety and thoughts intertwined with mental illness; creating the artwork helped symbolise my thoughts and anxiety which helps with my wellbeing.”

Considering the positive feedback from the art workshops, and the benefits gained by those suffering with anxiety, Ambient Support’s Occupational Therapy team plan to facilitate future art sessions to further help the people they support.

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