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Prescription art lifts mood

CULTURE

A Danish program is providing cultural experiences to help unemployed people overcome stress, anxiety and depression. Called the Kulturvitaminer (culture vitamins) program and partly funded by the Danish health authority, it aims to encourage people to engage in a number of cultural activities. Mikael Odder Nielsen, who runs a pilot program in the northern city of Aalborg, told The Guardian: “We wanted to see if we could make people’s mental health better, reduce social isolation and help them get back into the labour market via culture.” 

Participants are invited to go on two or three cultural excursions a week for 10 weeks. The offer appealed to 36-year-old Jonas Thrysøe. “It was an activity that would get me out of the house, something that wasn’t a medical appointment, where I was treated as ‘normal’. Because I am not my anxiety, I’m me. And the course helped me feel like ‘me’ again,” he says. Evy Mortenson, 49, who has had periods of mental ill health for the past six years, was also intrigued by the idea. “Before I went down with stress, I would often go to concerts and museums,” she says. “But then I stopped. Nothing made me happy or even made sense any more.” Mortenson’s experience is not uncommon, says Nielsen: “If you are depressed, culture is often the first thing you don’t bother with, you’re too preoccupied with getting through the day. My role is to get them used to this world again, or even introduce it for the first time.” 

The Kulturvitaminer program consists of various strands, one of which is a group sing-along; singing with others promotes a sense of connectedness. There are also group visits to the theatre where participants watch new productions and are coached by actors in how to adopt confident body language. Then there are trips to the library where participants are read to for a couple of hours; brain scans show storytelling stimulates neural pathways, increases empathy and improves wellbeing. And it seems this so-called “prescriptive art” program is delivering positive results. “I’m not the same person as I was when I started this process,” says Mortenson. Neither is Thrysøe. “The course altered my outlook . . . it changed my life.”

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