What is the link between creativity, mental health, and education?
by Dave Colangelo
Considering that creativity ideally is an inclusive and experimental process of self (and other) discovery that is rewarding for individuals and communities, it is not much of a stretch to posit that there may be a link between creativity, education, and positive mental health outcomes.
This is precisely what Crawford et. al (2013) explore in their article “Creative practice as mutual recovery in mental health.”
At the heart of their work is a social, not medical, model of mental health where mental health is seen as embedded in and produced by social relationships. As such, places like schools and classrooms are important sites for making changes to support positive mental health outcomes and more inclusive attitudes towards what mental health is and how it should be “treated.”
They also note that, in general, the state has failed to support mental health, thus there is both a need and an opportunity to take on a “mutual recovery” model of mental health where schools can become places for innovation.
Crucially, for Crawford et. al (2013), a focus on creativity in pedagogy and service delivery can aid instructors, administrators, and students not in “recovering” to some imagined state of wellness, eradicating mental health problems, but instead “recovering” their lives — finding and developing meaning and resilience irrespective of mental health “symptoms” or disabilities.
As the authors note, “groups can be brought together in and through the co-production of creative capital or resources in areas such as visual arts, music, dance, drama, stories and narratives, histories, philosophies and the like, in order to forge stronger connections that can support mental health and well-being recovery and advance shared understanding” (58). Furthermore, their research has found that creative and artistic practice can “break down social barriers, of expressing and understanding experiences and emotions, and of helping to rebuild identities and communities” (55). Through the incorporation of more opportunities for creativity, the school environment can help to foster the mutuality, trust, and shared understanding and recognition needed for mental health recovery (59).
Crawford et. al note that “recovery locates the difficulties of those experiencing distress in their social contexts, privileges the views of those who suffer, stresses the cultivation of resilience and challenges the authority and expertise of traditional providers” (57).
Similarly, Gauntlett’s conception of creativity at the beginning of this module foregrounds the social contexts that are key to unlocking the positive benefits of creativity, and the need to create platforms, opportunities, and broaden definitions of creativity to address accessibility, inclusivity, and social justice.
The next section will look at just how one practitioner is finding a way to do just that in their teaching and learning, and the effect this has had on the mental health of students as well as their own.