Arts engagement as a health behavior

Alex Rodriguez
Alexandra Rodriguez is a public health Ph.D. student in the social and behavioral sciences concentration at the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions, a national research and impact associate with One Nation/One Project, and a graduate research assistant at the UF Center for Arts in Medicine.

By Alexandra K. Rodriguez, M.P.H. 

As mental health concerns continue to mount globally, especially amongst minoritized populations, how can we augment traditional strategies aimed at supporting mental health? 

Research in arts and health has shown how arts engagement offers an accessible, equitable opportunity to combat mental health inequities and impact upstream health determinants. As evidenced in the World Health Organization’s literature review on the role of the arts in improving health and well-being, arts engagement can act as a preventative and rehabilitative measure for mental health given its ability to lower daily levels of biological stress and anxiety. Further, engagement in the arts can increase self-esteem, self-acceptance, self-worth and confidence, which can in turn reduce the risk of developing mental illness such as depression. 

Epidemiological studies conducted by the University of Florida’s EpiArts Lab have provided insight on the long-term, positive health impacts of engaging in the arts. Additionally, UF’s Center for Arts in Medicine has pioneered an interactive evidence-based framework for arts in public health, containing information on some of the primary mechanisms by which arts engagement impacts health as well as relevant exemplary research articles

Most recently, our team published, “Arts Engagement as a Health Behavior: An Opportunity to Address Mental Health Inequities,” which delves into the strengths associated with collaborations between the health and arts sectors. This study also illustrates methods by which the arts can be leveraged across spheres of influence to promote mental health equity.

Alex paper model
Figure from the research article “Arts Engagement as a Health Behavior: An Opportunity to Address Mental Health Inequities.”

Notably, by considering individual, interpersonal, community, policy and cultural levels, the applied social-ecological model created in this article provides a lens by which to approach addressing mental health inequities through arts engagement. Our paper centers on the concept that “arts engagement can act as a protective and rehabilitative behavior for mental health while also redefining and strengthening health at each of these levels.”  

As we envision how this article can impact the field, we consider how this applied model can provide an innovative, focused launching point from which community-led design, implementation, assessment and evaluation of arts-based methods can be created to equitably increase positive mental health outcomes. 

Group Image PHHP arts in wellness
Group Image
Arts in Wellness

As you consider the evidence related to the benefits of engaging in the arts, how can you incorporate arts or creativity into your wellness practice? Here are three tips to get you started! 

  1. Group pictureYou don’t have to be an expert. Lean in to practices you enjoy! Research has shown that health benefits are not linked to proficiency or excellence in artistic practice, so don’t be intimidated to start creating. Also, consider engaging in art forms you may have not been previously exposed to like glass blowing, macramé, wood turning, or even metal work. 
  2. Create with others. Make a concentrated effort to create alongside friends or to connect with organizations engaged in your preferred creative practice. Research has shown that participating in art with others can reduce loneliness and isolation, as well as enhance social support.  
  3. Make it a habit. Create time in your schedule to prioritize engaging in the arts. By having a routine, it will be easier to sustain your artistic processes and practices!