King's Impact - The Art of Wellbeing

This article originally appeared in the Spring/Summer 2019 issue of InTouch. This online version has been extended to include additional projects.

There is a growing interest in how arts and culture can feed into health and wellbeing. King’s and its health partners, Guy’s, St Thomas’ and King’s College Hospital, have long been alert to the benefits of making connections between these fields. In 2001, King’s was the first university in the UK to establish a Chair of Medicine and the Arts. The Chair is charged with expanding the arts programme available to students in the School of Medicine. Since then King’s has experimented with new approaches to research and education that test how engaging with the arts enhances health and wellbeing in clinical, community and care settings.

King’s distinctive approach to arts and health engages academics, students, patients, carers and healthcare professionals. Arts interventions can improve health and wellbeing in participants and help raise awareness of specific health issues amongst the wider public.

Arts in Mind Festival

King’s marked the 20th anniversary of Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) last year with the Arts in Mind festival. The festival was a weeklong celebration of arts and mental health. It included over 40 exhibitions, performances, screenings and workshops. Visitors were able to explore everything from the mood enhancing properties of virtual reality psychedelia to the smartphone app that explores the effect of urban living on mental wellbeing. The festival brought to life creative collaborations between artists and the Faculty’s world-leading psychiatrists, psychologists and neuroscientists.

'I have learned the importance of taking notice of and talking about our environment and how it can impact emotion.’ - Audience member at Urban Mind

Professor Patrick Leman, Dean of Education, IOPPN, found the sheer scope of the festival awe-inspiring. He tells us ‘my abiding memory will be seeing the ways in which researchers, artists and students worked together and genuinely created new ways of seeing, and new ways of knowing.’

A second Arts in Mind festival is planned for 2020. Professor Leman says ‘It's an exciting future for arts and science, and we are proud to be at the forefront of that.’

Weaving a new story

‘People normally think of arts and crafts in a particular way. Maybe rather than thinking of what is produced we should be thinking about the process and conversations it can stir.’ - Weaving a new story workshop participant

Weaving a new story explores how mindful textile work can support women with postnatal depression. More than one in ten women experience depression within a year of giving birth. Clinical psychologist Dr Tamara Russell and artist and psychological therapist Liz Finegold collaborated on the initial project, which consisted of ten mindful sewing sessions for recent mothers with postnatal depression. The sessions combine the focus of mindfulness practice with the creative activity of sewing. The aim is to provide participants with the self-management tools to alleviate symptoms such as anxiety, low self-esteem and exhaustion. The large quilt created in these sessions was exhibited in Atrium 1 at Guy’s Hospital.

Each of the mothers taking part in the workshops completed questionnaires assessing mood, parenting confidence and mindfulness. The results show a significant decrease in depression, with the average postnatal score lying just below the cut-off for postnatal depression.

Could drumming improve brain function in autism?

Autism Spectrum Disorder is a range of similar conditions, including Asperger syndrome, that affect a person's social interaction, communication, interests and behaviour. It effects at least one in a hundred people in the UK.

Professor Steven Williams, Head of Department of Neuroimaging, is interested in drumming as an intervention in brain disorder research. Drumming is a complex activity that encompasses a unique set of physical and mental challenges. Understanding the physical changes in the brains of those learning to drum could help develop important interventions for people with autism and other neurological disorders.

Funded by a grant from the Waterloo Foundation, this latest study focuses on young people with autism. It builds on previous research that showed that a short programme of drum training could lead to changes in brain structure and function associated with autism.

The studies use Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to detect changes in participants’ brains. Early results are positive, with scans showing that drum training makes visible changes in two areas: the cerebral cortex (the outer layer of the brain comprising three parts: the sensory, motor, and association areas) and the cerebellum (which sits below and behind the main part of the brain and also plays an important role in motor function). The hope is that these results can be replicated and can be used to develop practical interventions that will improve lives of young people with autism.

Professor Williams says ‘we believe that learning a new physical activity such as drumming will benefit many subjects with impaired motor movement and co-ordination. We hope that our current efforts will inform future endeavours to improve quality of life.’

Stroke Odysseys

Stroke Odysseys gives stroke survivors the opportunity to explore their personal narratives. It is a five-year collaboration between the Culture team at King’s, the Health Innovation team from Guy’s and St Thomas Charity and Rosetta Life, a health charity that develops arts initiatives to challenge stigma around disability and illness.

The programme encourages patients who have suffered a stroke to explore their stroke stories through song and movement. A series of 12 creative workshops culminates in informal ‘sharings’ with family and health professionals and in some instances, public performance.

Participants in the workshops report greater optimism about independent living, higher cognitive functioning, greater mobility and communication skills. They also gain a deeper knowledge of the use of dance and arts as a form of rehabilitation. Many choose to become Stroke Ambassadors, advocating for life after stroke.

Recently, extra funding from Arts Council of England and the Wellcome Trust enabled the team to tour a production made with an integrated company of Stroke Ambassadors and professional artists.

Speaking about the Stroke Odysseys project, Professor Tony Rudd CBE, Professor of Stroke Medicine at King’s says:
‘There are relatively few interventions for people living with stroke to address some of the psychological complications that arise. It would seem that this is an intervention that could be developed and used widely at relatively low cost and great benefit.’

'The most amazing thing about the brain is that we keep learning and we never stop learning. Recovery from stroke is possible, and there is hope.' - Stroke Odysseys project participant

360 Patient Care

Dr Bryan Kerr and filmmaker Paulette Caletti of Too Right Films Ltd discovered their shared interest in 360 video and VR during a children’s birthday party. Bryan had the idea to explore using 360 as a teaching aid and 360 Patient Care developed from this. The film aims to help medical practitioners have a better understanding of the challenges facing disabled patients and offer ways to help.

People with disabilities have multiple barriers to accessing medical care, ie lack of step free access and transport costs. This project aims to help raise awareness of issues commonly affecting disabled people by placing the viewer in an immersive video with a first person view of the world from a disabled person's perspective.

The video, which launched in February, has been submitted into several festivals. 360 video is increasingly accessible due to smartphone technology and cheaper headset prices and the team will be measuring the film’s effectiveness as a teaching aid over the next year.

Making a difference

The impact of projects like these is beginning to have an effect in the policy arena. King’s recently provided the research for the two year All Party Parliamentary Group Inquiry into Arts, Health and Wellbeing. The research involved academics, practitioners, service-users and policy makers. It resulted in a comprehensive report in 2017, which cited more than 200 practice examples and proposed a range of policy recommendations. The intention of the report is to influence the thinking and practice of health and arts professionals as well as government, to ensure we take advantage of the great benefits that the arts can have on health and wellbeing.