Arts can help treat, prevent illness

The World Health Organisation looked at the ways in which the arts can help prevent ill-health and support the treatment of mental illness, non-communicable diseases and neurological disorders. The WHO Regional Office for Europe looked at more than 900 publications, including reviews covering 3000 further studies, in English and Russian from January 2000 to May 2019. They divided the arts into five categories: performing arts, visual arts, literature, culture, and online arts.

World Health Organisation

One highlighted study showed that didgeridoo lessons in Australia improved respiratory function in males, and in general helped improve asthma awareness and compliance with asthma management plans. Singing toothbrushes designed to increase the quality of brushing have been shown to improve oral health in blind children in South India, the report said.

Dance was found to help people with post-traumatic stress disorder build a healthy relationship with their body by helping them counter “body armouring”, when the muscles tense due to stress, and reducing stiffness. Some of the studies, they said, show comparable or stronger effects for arts interventions than for medication or exercise. The studies also demonstrate economic benefits, with some arts interventions showing equivalent or greater cost-effectiveness to possible health interventions.

They say policy-makers should support the implementation of arts interventions where there is substantial evidence of benefits, such as the use of recorded music for patients prior to surgery, and arts for patients with dementia.