Art Can Improve Mental Health
> 12/20/2009 5:19:37 PM

A new Norwegian study seems to further confirm the long-held belief that pursuing creative hobbies like music, painting, and dance (or simply enjoying art in the company of others) can drastically improve one's emotional health and help to fend off depression.

The Nord-Trøndelag health study (HUNT)  is a long-running survey project designed to create a huge data pool from which researchers can construct an accurate portrait of Norwegian society across age, gender and social class groups.

The newest in an extensive series of reports based on data collected from the HUNT project focuses on subjects' participation in the arts and draws from written surveys and interviews with nearly 50,000 Norwegians. After controlling for all major demographic variables, researchers found that subjects who practiced or followed the fine arts were, by their own accounts, happier than those who did not. They were also statistically less likely to suffer from clinical depression.

This trend amazingly held true regardless of subjects' age, profession, or income level. And it applied to all who were in some way involved with creative fields, whether they identified themselves as artists or simply made a point to enjoy the work of others by attending concerts and/or visiting museums on a regular basis.

The correlation strangely did not occur among women, and this disparity cannot be readily explained. Researchers also noted that, while depression levels were lower for creative subjects, these pursuits did not seem to affect the occurrence of recurring problems with anxiety.

Why did creative subjects report greater levels of personal satisfaction? We can't be sure, but popular theory holds that the communal aspects of art and performance allow individuals to develop deeper bonds with others and gain a greater sense of satisfaction from their personal experiences.

The concept of performance as therapy is not new. Art therapy is, in fact, a major movement with practitioners throughout the U.S. and the rest of the industrialized world. We hope that continuing research can more thoroughly explore the relationship between art and mental health and allow for more effective individual treatment plans incorporating the act of creation as a form of treatment.

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