Creativity as Therapy: Let's Prescribe it

Art and the means of creation have permeated mankind since the dawn of time. Tracing the history of art right back to the most indigenous people to have walked the planet, and the most ancient civilisations, we have always used tools to create visuals in an attempt to tell a story, to leave a mark and to express ourselves. From Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, to the oldest cave painting on record in Indonesia on the island of Sulawesi, humans make art to express and communicate ideas when words simply do not suffice. Which is why I believe that art as therapy for the rehabilitation and treatment of numerous forms of psychiatric illness should be prioritised above all other presently utilised forms of therapy.

Art reflects, transmits, shapes and comments on culture and society - with a broad spectrum of meanings and foundations building the reasons as to why we feel the need to put pen to paper. Whether artists are creating slogans and murals as part of a political movement, or or photographing poignant moments in history, art is the brains way of letting out the birds from the cage without an immense level of effort or emotional distress, which therapies such as CBT and DBT can actually exacerbate (i.e. by talking and consequently reliving past traumas and difficulties, troubles aren’t necessarily resolved, but rather worsened or left without effective closure).

Neurologically speaking, the part of the brain that we can perhaps thank for creative expression is the right hemisphere of the cranium. There is a theory that people are either left or right-brained, meaning one is more dominant than the other. But this does not in any way mean that those inclined more to numbers and logistics aren’t capable of creativity. In fact, it’s far more complex than that.

The right hand side of the brain influences feelings and visualisation; imagination, intuition, a sense of rhythm, holistic thinking and the arts. Whereas the left hemisphere presents thinking in words, sequencing; having a more linear approach to situations in life, mathematics, facts and logic. This is why, for the most part, people who have clinically diagnosed psychiatric illnesses have a tendency to be very creative: because it is the left side of the brain that may be ‘faulty’. Rationalising, thinking clearly and logically; looking at the facts - these are elements of a persons life which can whither and be affected by mental illnesses such as personality disorder, bipolar and it’s subtypes; schizophrenia, anorexia and beyond. This isn’t to say that all people experiencing mental distress are modern day Van Gogh… but based on genuine studies, (i.e. a study conducted by Simon Kyaga, Psychiatrist of the Karolinska Institute of Stockholm) found in their findings that the likelihood of being a creative person doubles and correlates with diagnosis or experience of bipolarism or schizophrenia. This study has been being conducted for a period of 40 years, with final findings clearly indicating that mental illness is well over represented among people in artistic occupations, as opposed to scientific. (Kyaga, Simon et al. “Mental illness, suicide and creativity: 40-year prospective total population study.” Journal of psychiatric research vol. 47,1 (2013): 83-90. doi:10.1016/j.jpsychires.2012.09.010).

So the glowing question in the dark is, if art is so effective as a means of expression… why aren’t we making it a prescribed treatment for early or late intervention with those who are diagnosed with mental illness? Times are changing, and the statistics depicting mental health are not. In fact, they’re just getting worse. The amount of people with common mental health problems went up by 20% between 1993 to 2014. Now in 2020, which is arguably the most disruptive year of human existence socioeconomically, politically, and medically… 1 in 4 people have a mental health problem of some form in England alone, with major depression being the second leading cause of disability worldwide, and a major contributor to the burden of suicide and ischemic heart disease (Whiteford, H. A. et al. (2013) Global burden of disease attributable to mental and substance use disorders: findings from the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010. The Lancet. 382 (9904). pp. 1575-1586.).

As someone who has experienced a profound amount of mental illness and trauma in her life, art has always been my crutch - whether knowingly aware of it’s benefits to me or not. Since a child, I have always had a pencil to paper, a brush to paint, a nib to ink, glitter to glue and beyond. I adore all things creative and artistic - it’s my escapism. Doodling the subconscious, writing quotes in calligraphic form, drawing intricate tattoo designs abundant with floral imagery, skulls, eyes, symbols and cryptic beauty… I will never not use art as a way to let out the demons attempting to play mixologist at the bar of my brain.

In this article, I've included just a few of my artworks, varying in medium. From ink and pencil, to calligraphy pens and scrapbooks. My intention here is to inspire you to do the same. To, instead of digging a knife into your skin, dig a paintbrush into red ink. Instead of crying a waterfall, allow watercolours to do the talking. You don’t have to be Michelangelo, or Leonardo da Vinci. You don’t even have to be Picasso, who - let’s be honest - was incredibly childlike with his compositions. Just let it go.

Get messy. Get loud. Be proud.

You’re beautiful, you’re talented, you’re you - and that, my dear, is enough.

Love Darcy Bucci



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©2019 by Lait Mylk