June 14, 2016 – In February, HC Link partnered with CAPACOA and Arts Health Network Canada to present a webinar on Arts and Health: Partners in Well-Being. This webinar offered an introduction to arts and health practices, an overview of research findings, as well as an exploration of cases and resources.
An irrefutable link
Several randomized controlled trials and longitudinal studies have evidenced links between attendance at arts events – theatre, concerts, movie theatres, art galleries – and a number of health indicators, including self-declared health. For example, a landmark study demonstrated that people who rarely attend such events run a nearly 60% higher mortality risk than those attending most often (at least once per week). Moreover, other longitudinal studies identified links between arts and cancer death rate, as well as risks of dementia.
Positive psychosomatic effects
Research did demonstrate a correlation between arts activities and health, but it yet has to prove a causal link. In an attempt to explain this undeniable yet elusive link, psychoneuroimmunology (study of the interaction between psychological processes and the nervous and immune systems) offers a few noteworthy perspectives. Researchers have been investigating the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis (HPA axis) and the immune system in hopes to understand how exactly art might influence health. So far, research has found evidence of positive associations between music listening or making and levels of immunoglobuline A, natural killer cells, interleukin-6 and β-endorphin.
Towards arts-based public policies
Arts and health research even provides indications with regard to the dose-response relationship: according to an Australian study, two or more hours/week of arts engagement are required to enjoy positive effects on mental well-being.
In the United Kingdom, authorities decided to act upon such evidence. Primary health care, community and arts stakeholders have partnered to launch Arts on Prescription projects. Arts on prescription is a form of “social prescribing” used to treat mild to moderate mental health conditions (depression, stress and anxiety). Arts on prescription services provide access to participatory arts programs through a referral process. Early evaluations of these services demonstrate positive impacts on self-confidence and mental well-being.
To put it briefly, arts can both promote health and support health care. So, let’s hope that Canada’s health policy makers will acknowledge the potential of arts as a vector of health and will create more opportunities for cross-sector collaboration between arts and health.
Webinar presentation [in French]
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