The arts offer community participation, but they also give our lives meaning, provide opportunities for self expression and offer a way of viewing the world from a different perspective - enriching both individuals and society and reaching people who may be stressed and/or often not otherwise easily engaged with their community.
According to the World Health Organization, "(good) mental health is... a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community."
So how do you maintain good mental health? It's a complex task crossing all societal levels, including (you guessed it) participation in the arts. Julia McHenry, a research associate at Curtin University in Australia, writes from her research on art and well-being:
"It is well known that community participation is a key element in individual well-being and community health….It is important that promotion, prevention, and early intervention for mental health takes place beyond the traditional mental health or even health sectors. In fact, it should take place in all the sectors that are a part of, and impact on, peopleʼs daily lives.
"People are not just exposed to risk factors, they are also exposed to protective factors, which are just as important in the maintenance of good mental health. Protective factors include (healthy) social relationships...as well as individual skills and abilities for expression and resisting stress.
"Being mentally healthy enables us to experience life as meaningful and to be creative and productive members of society. Furthermore, people who are mentally healthy are happier and generally enjoy better health, better relationships, and are more likely to live longer."
So next time you write down your thoughts in prose or verse, listen to or play some music, dance, paint, visit a gallery, act in or attend a theatre presentation, pat yourself on the back for enriching your perspective, resisting stress, and contributing to your own mental health.