GPs could soon prescribe creativity to improve wellbeing

GPs could soon prescribe creativity to improve wellbeing

A new paper exploring the effects of crochet on wellbeing has sparked a wider discussion of the benefits of getting creative can be good for our mental health.

After surveying more than 8000 crocheters, Dr Pippa Burns, a medical researcher at The University of Wollongong, found that 89.5 percent of respondents felt calmer from engaging in the craft, while 82 percent felt happier.

These findings didn’t really surprise Burns, who also crochets.

“It’s very mindful because you’re counting stitches,” she said. “You’re not thinking about who said what at work or what you need to do tomorrow. You’re just focused on what you’re creating.”

A potential treatment

Though the prescription of crocheting and sewing has been slow in Australia, other countries have supported the move.

In the UK and Germany, more than half of GPs refer their patients to community services - including crocheting and sewing - for a range of social, emotional, or financial issues, in a practice called social prescribing.

This practice has been endorsed by both the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) and the Consumers Health Forum of Australia.

According to Burns, a more targeted education campaign is needed to help GPs and the broader public understand the benefits of social prescribing and increase its uptake.

“It’s about society viewing health more holistically,” Burns said. “You don’t just have to have clinical or pharmacological interventions. You can also have creative interventions that could be just as important to someone’s recovery.”

The Black Dog Institute is also conducting its own study on the benefits of social prescribing.

Clients of their depression clinic have been taking part in arts on prescription workshops with the Art Gallery of NSW, with preliminary results finding participants experienced significant increases in mental health, wellbeing, and feelings of social inclusion.

Professor Katherine Boydell, the institute’s lead researcher, believes social prescribing could contribute to improving health outcomes of patients, and even reduce care costs.

Doing something badly

An eight-week program called ‘Creativity on Prescription’, devised by social enterprise Makeshift and designed in consultation with Burns, a GP, and a psychologist, allows participants to trial a new creative activity each week.

From dancing and painting to gardening, these activities aim to help participants manage anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues.

“People experience a different version of themselves,” said Caitlin Marshall, Makeshift’s co-founder and a social worker. “And that’s really important for personal change to happen.”

However, the biggest obstacle for many is the perception they’re not artistic or creative enough.

“You can go for a run and be really crappy at running and you’re still going to get the benefit of that,” Marshall countered. “Creative practices give us the same thing.”

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