Calls for mental health benefits of arts and creativity to be recognised by government and form part of forthcoming 10-year plan.
The arts and creative activities should form a central part of efforts to improve mental health support through a new 10-year plan, government has been told.
Responding to a consultation on what the plan should involve, the National Centre for Creative Health (NCCH) said creative approaches should be fully embedded in planning and delivery at local, regional and national levels.
It said creative health approaches have been shown to have positive benefits across the spectrum of mental health conditions, in both community and hospital settings, adding that there is increasing interest as to how it can be further incorporated into healthcare systems.
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However, it said that despite there being more than 300 UK organisations working in arts and mental health there is "a lack of recognition" of the value of creative health in the NHS.
It added that funding and commissioning structures can present barriers to creative health practitioners who find it "difficult to navigate the commissioning process".
"There must be an understanding of the value of creative health at leadership level [with] Creative Health Champions in leadership roles, or a dedicated Creative Health lead [to] help ensure creative approaches are reflected across all policies," the consultation response states.
It also wants creative health to be recognised across governmental departments, with its benefits considered for policies related to culture, education, employment, justice and levelling-up, not solely health.
Alongside this, NCCH is calling for sustainable funding for community-based and grassroots creative activities, and investment in the infrastructure supporting them, so they can work effectively with health and social care partners.
"Whilst mobilising creative and cultural assets has great potential to improve population mental wellbeing, experience and evidence from practitioners in the Culture Health and Wellbeing Alliance and the Lived Experience Network shows that sustainable, accessible funding for grassroots organisations is essential," the response states.
"The establishment of integrated care systems and a focus on personalised care, including social prescribing, has opened up routes to creative health for patients and NHS staff. However, adequate support needs to be provided for the voluntary, community and social enterprise and cultural sector providers.
"A comprehensive mental health strategy must acknowledge that investment in grassroots and community provision, and the infrastructure that supports them, will facilitate the development of innovative, effective and sustainable interventions."
NCCH also urges government to adopt an early intervention approach with creative health.
"As mental health in the early years can strongly impact on mental health in later years, a focus on mental health and wellbeing in children and young people is vital." the response states.
It gives the example of Kazzum Arts, based in East London, which uses creative techniques with children who have social, emotional and mental health issues and has programmes working specifically with children in pupil referral units, in hospital wards and with young asylum seekers.
Kazzum's Apollo project takes place within hospitals, using the arts to increase the wellbeing of children who are undergoing healthcare and mental health treatments on children’s wards, with artists to creating imaginative projects to "transform healthcare settings into joyful and welcoming spaces".
It also highlights the work of Kids in Control, based in Belfast, which uses theatre-based approaches, in collaboration with a suicide awareness group, to develop learning programmes for marginalised young people, empowering them to discuss suicide and mental health with their peers.
The government has said the 10-year plan for mental health, unveiled by former Health Secretary Sajid Javid earlier this year, will contribute to delivering the government’s levelling up mission to increase healthy life expectancy by five years by 2035.
It also aims to narrow the gap in healthy life expectancy between local areas where it is highest and lowest by 2030.