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AHRC releases new report about arts and humanities research on mental health

Date: 10/10/2017

Cover of Exploring Mental Health and Wellbeing.

A new report, Exploring Mental Health and Wellbeing, published today by the Arts and Humanities Research Council highlights the important role that arts and humanities based research can play in helping to address complex issues around mental health.

The report brings to life a wealth of case studies that are contributing to the mental health debate. These include examining the work of academics at the University of Cambridge who are pioneering an innovative design of a personalised fragrance dispenser to help manage anxiety to a project being managed by the University of Essex to educate policy-makers on the issues surrounding impaired decision-making capacity.

Mental ill health is one of the biggest challenges society faces in the UK, affecting all ages and crossing the social spectrum. It accounts for more than 20 percent of the total disease burden in the UK – exceeding cancer and cardiovascular disease – and is the leading reason for people taking time off work.

Research around mental health is focused around developing a cross-disciplinary approach – and arts and humanities scholars have a key role to play. The AHRC has funded research in many different aspects of mental health research in recent years, with an investment of over £10m in seventy-six projects since 2010.

The new cross-disciplinary mental health research agenda sees the UK’s seven research councils joining forces to collaborate on mental health research. Published in August this year, the agenda paves the way for cross-council collaboration on mental health, highlighting the importance of including the arts and humanities in this area of research.

Gary Grubb, AHRC Associate Director of Programmes, said: “Our current attitudes to mental health are framed by history, culture and the arts. We can’t truly understand today’s issues, unless we understand how we got to where we are.”

“Many of the projects have seen academics working with people with mental health issues as active agents – not just subjects – whose experience, learning and creativity are vital assets for building resilience and generating innovative responses to mental illness. There is some deeply engaged research work going on.

Gillian Gray, Portfolio Manager for Histories, Culture and Heritage, said: “With this report, we’re aiming to help break down the stigma around mental ill health as well as the barriers between academic research and the public.

“The highlighted projects show that arts and humanities are integral to mental health and wellbeing research. The projects don’t take place in research labs, but use workshops and other initiatives to involve real people, with real issues.

“The information in this report is relevant and readable for everyone who wishes to learn more about mental health. We’re working hard to make sure it’s read by as many people as possible.”

Professor Martin Halliwell, University of Leicester School of Arts Head and cross-Research Council Mental Health Expert Group Member, said: “Arts and humanities subjects are essential for understanding the complexity and the real-life impact of mental health conditions as they affect both individuals and those around them.

“They offer a breadth of perspectives, skills and techniques that can reveal a deeper understanding of the causes and experiences of mental illness, and can help to better comprehend both social connectedness and fragmentation for the communities that face it.”

Through flexible responsive funding and targeted, sustained national strategy, the AHRC will continue to support new research to help deepen understanding and enrich the support available for those with mental health problems and those that care for them.


For further press information please contact:

  • Joe Lewis, AHRC Press and Social Media Officer
    Tel: 01793 416 021 Email: j.lewis@ahrc.ac.uk
  • Gillian Gray, Portfolio Manager for Histories, Culture and Heritage
    Tel: 01793 41 6068 Email: g.gray@ahrc.ac.uk

Notes to Editors
The four research projects included in the publication are:

  • Mutual Recovery for Mental Health and Wellbeing through Creative Practice (Lead Research Organisation: University of Nottingham, Principal Investigator: Professor Paul Crawford).
  • eScent – Future of Fragrance (Lead Research Organisation: University of the Arts London, Principal Investigator: Dr Jenny Tillotson).
  • Deciding for Oneself: Autonomous Judgement in History, Theory, and Practice – The Essex Autonomy Project (Lead Research Organisation: University of Essex, Principal Researcher: Professor Michael Martin).
  • Journeys to the Ideal Self: Personal transformation through group encounters of rural landscape in Scotland (Lead Research Organisation: University of Edinburgh, Principal Investigator Rebecca Crowther.

About the Arts and Humanities Research Council

The AHRC funds world-class, independent researchers in a wide range of subjects: history, archaeology, digital content, philosophy, languages, design, heritage, area studies, the creative and performing arts, and much more. This financial year the AHRC will spend approximately £98 million to fund research and postgraduate training, in collaboration with a number of partners. The quality and range of research supported by this investment of public funds not only provides social and cultural benefits and contributes to the economic success of the UK but also to the culture and welfare of societies around the globe.

You can find out more information via www.ahrc.ac.uk  or following us on Twitter at @ahrcpress, on Facebook at Arts and Humanities Research Council, or Instagram at @ahrcpress.

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