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Linking the arts and Shared Reading with good mental health

Written by Lisa Spurgin, 4th February 2016

The link between the arts and improved mental well-being is one which more professionals and volunteers are experiencing firsthand in the UK, and will be celebrated at the first national Arts in Health Conference and Showcase.

"He spoke of how the line, 'A need for alliance to defeat, The whisperers at the corner of the street' (from Not Love Perhaps by A.S.J. Tessimond), reminded him of his own situation, where the strength and love he feels in the reading group sustains him throughout the rest of the week when he is alone and often facing hostility." -

Shared Reading group leader on one of the members of their community group

P1000682Every year over 15million people will experience a mental health problem and each week tens of millions of people engage with the arts, whether it be through reading, dancing, singing or visiting galleries, theatres or museums. The link between the arts and improved mental well-being is one which more professionals and volunteers are experiencing firsthand in the UK, and will be celebrated at the first national Arts in Health Conference and Showcase, taking place at the Southbank Centre in London tomorrow (Friday 5 February).

This major event, organised by Aesop - the arts and health social enterprise - will bring health decision-makers together with over 20 different arts interventions from across the country to explore the various ways in which the arts can be harnessed to improve the provision of healthcare. Attended by Jeremy Hunt MP, Secretary of State for Health, and Professor Sir Malcolm Grant CBE, Chair of NHS England, the conference will showcase how engagement with the arts can make positive as well as cost-effective health outcomes for all ages, from young people and families to older people. The Reader will be a part of the day's celebrations, with a showcase of Shared Reading in action featuring stories from some of our beneficiaries who have used Shared Reading as part of coping strategies for their mental health conditions.

We currently work with CCGs, Public Health bodies, NHS trusts, on wards as well as in communities, reading in libraries, centres and our future International Centre for Reading at Calderstones Mansion, delivering Shared Reading groups that bring people closer to literature and one another, allowing space every week to connect with their thoughts and feelings. P1000817Our groups help people to make fewer visits to the GP, improve mood and relaxation and can assist in better understand of themselves and those around them.

Each week hundreds of Shared Reading experiences can help people from all backgrounds and facing a number of difficulties to discover something more:

I joined [the group] at a time when I was at my lowest ebb. I had been ill for a couple of years and coupled with other problems I had not bounced back. I had withdrawn completely from society and had given up the many activities that I used to love. The day I found out about the group will be etched on my mind forever, as it was the start on the road to recovery and getting back to living. Shared Reading helped me to venture out again. I have rebuilt my life, have many pastimes and enjoy community involvement. It calms the anxious mind; it is an escape from everyday pressures; it is company, and I have seen the benefits that it has given so many people. - Denise, London

It’s so much better than being stuck on tablets, health-wise I’m so much better because of it. I’m still shy but I’ve got so much more confidence, I don’t mind voicing my opinion and don’t worry about being made a fool of now. I’m really pleased I’ve started coming. This is what it’s all about: in a short space of time you get all these friends, it costs you nothing and you read stuff you never thought you’d read – like Silas Marner! I could have ended up like Silas Marner but I thought ‘Right, I’ve had enough – it’s time to get off my backside and do something!’ - Tony, Wirral

Through the stories, I feel I can talk and I feel really good, not bad. And I feel a relief. This is what happens through the stories. Comparing myself with the stories, this helps me. I tried to end my life because I found no hope or where I belonged or who I could trust or who I could talk to. In this group it’s about the books and discussing things that happened to us. And listening to other people’s stories, it’s not just me, it gives me hope. - Shad, London

We're excited to be sharing more stories from our group members at the Arts in Health Conference tomorrow, and to be part of building a stronger connection between the arts and healthcare. The conference is sold out, but highlights will feature on BBC Radio 4's PM programme from 5-6pm on Friday 5th February.

As new research released today shows that reading empowers people to make positive changes in their life, we're happy to be showcasing the social dimension of reading with other people along with reinforcing the positive outcomes literature has for our collective mental health.

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