29 Dec
Purple and white brush strokes

By Rick McVicar

         A mental health pandemic is running its course alongside the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Brittany Harker Martin in an article published at Inverse.com

     "Mental health issues affect nearly half of the global population, at some point, by age 40. Add to that... recent challenges to maintaining mental wellness, managing fears and uncertainties," Martin writes. 

     The article, "Cutting Edge Research Shows That Making Art Benefits the Brain," June 14, 2020, was first published by Columbia University. It summarizes highlights of research provided by neuroaesthetics, which uses imaging to study how art impacts the brain. For instance, studies have shown that making art lowers stress by reducing cortisol levels in the brain.

     One brain function discussed by several studies is the concept of "flow." Flow is a state of a high concentration of focused attention. It is associated with mindfulness. or "optimal engagement." Creating art can induce the state of flow. Such focus stimulates pleasure and reward mechanisms in the brain, Martin writes.

      Besides enhancing pleasure and concentration, the arts also serve to bring people together. Renee Phillips, in the article, "Artistic Expression and Mental Illness," published on The Healing Power of Arts and Artists website, tells of volunteering in a psychiatric hospital before art therapy became a profession. The writer notes how patients bonded together over drawings.

      "There are ways to communicate through art that transcend barriers and limitation, going straight to the heart of the matter," Phillips writes.

       The science behind these claims can easily be found on a webinar video produced by Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, found on brainfacts.org, March, 2020. Susan Magsamen, founder of International Arts and Mind Lab, leads the webinar.

       Practicing the arts affects perception, sensory-motor skills and emotion. Art physically changes the brain while a person interacts with the environment. Further, the arts help develop problem-solving skills, Magsamen said.

       Mental illness is not the only brain disease helped by practicing art. For instance, the lab where Magsamen works has been involved with studying how guitar lessons have helped those with Parkinson's. Other studies have involved older adults with dementia.

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