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Published by Susie Flintham on

The Importance of the Arts in our Young People’s Mental Health

“As mental health campaigner Natasha Devon points out, self-harm is frequently a way of being heard. Perhaps then, if we help young people find other, more creative outlets, we might find it easier to hear what they’re trying to tell us.”[i]

It is easy for me to agree with this statement, having spent 18 years teaching the Creative Arts, with one of those teaching on a psychiatric ward, however, there is something profound her which needs unpicking.

I start with my own experiences in the early years of teaching. I had a Drama Studio, before they were repurposed for other curriculum areas, and I quite often spent my lunch hour there. More often than not, I was visited by pupils, those pupils who felt out of place elsewhere in the school, and to whom the Studio was their safe space. Friendships and alliances were forged there which were not elsewhere in the school.

In my own school life, I wish I had somewhere like this to go, as I didn’t ‘fit in’, or feel comfortable. Lenny Henry, in an article for Sky News,[ii] speaks of the importance of the Arts “for a child’s sense of inclusion”, and I saw that with my own eyes as a teacher, and wished for it as a pupil.

Yet the Arts are being eroded in schools, and our young people are being put under inordinate pressure by schools, which in turn are being pressured by Ofsted and the Government. The emphasis on league tables and results have led to a system wherein the test has become the important thing, as a BBC News article explores.[iii] “School inspectors in England have put too much weight on tests and exam results when rating schools, Ofsted boss Amanda Spielman has admitted.”

How can our young people flourish and grow if they are being groomed for GCSE from the age of 11?

And, surely 11 is too young an age for such pressure? Where is the time to be a child, to play, to discover who they are, if they are being groomed for results, and therefore league tables from this age?

As Catherine Heinemeyer states in her article for The Conversation,[iv] “To thrive emotionally, young people need their own time and space, that is not explicitly directed at particular outcomes. The Arts provide some of the key forums for this.”

Without these forums, young people struggle to develop emotionally or to express the complicated feelings they are experiencing.

With “a 68% rise in rates of self-harm among girls aged 13 to 16 since 2011”,[v] something has got to be done to allow avenues of expression which have been diminished in recent years.

[i] Heinemeyer, C. “Mental health crisis in teens is being magnified by demise of creative subjects in school. The Conversation. September 2018

[ii] Henry, L. “Arts vital for a child’s sense of inclusion”. Sky News. September 2018

[iii] Sellgreen, K “Ofsted admits adding to ‘teach-to-the-test’ mentality. BBC News. September 2018

[iv] Heinemeyer, C. “Mental health crisis in teens is being magnified by demise of creative subjects in school. The Conversation. September 2018

[v] Analysis by Bazian, edited by NHS website <>

Any comments will require approval before appearing on the site. Please don’t be disheartened by this, and bear with me.

Categories: Update


Sarah Keillor · 26/09/2018 at 00:29

I totally agree with everything in this post. I can tell you that every lunch hour or extra curricular hours I had were spent in the music room or with the drama team. It made me feel comfortable in myself and with others and was a huge boost for my sense of community. One memory I have specifically from school is singing an impromptu “all that jazz” whilst on lunch break from rehearsals. All arts performing or not are a massive boost for a child’s / adolescent’s mental health. (Sorry for any grammatical errors, its been a while)

    Susie Flintham · 26/09/2018 at 16:34

    I think you’ve hit on another issue here, Sarah.
    The fact that lunchtimes have been reduced means not enough time to run groups, or allow students to spend time where they feel safe.

Andrew Deacon · 26/09/2018 at 14:20

I also totally agree with this post.
The arts provide a forum and safe space for young people to explore the world and figure out who they are and who they want to be.
I first became involved seriously in theatre at secondary school. Comprehensive schools in the south west of England in the early 90’s were not the most open minded and cosmopolitan of places! The drama studio became very much a safe refuge where I learnt about the diversity of human experience through performance and exploration. It helped me figure out who I was and pointed me in the direction of who I wanted to be. It built my confidence and self worth. Although always an imaginative child I was very insular and withdrawn in my peer group. Drama helped to unlock my ability to express myself and my ideas creatively and alsot helped me to develop empathy for others and their situations.

    Susie Flintham · 26/09/2018 at 16:33

    I think you echo Lenny Henry here, whereby the Arts offer certain children there only chance at feeling included, not just in school, but in society as a whole – a sense of belonging and having a place in the world.

Tamsin · 26/09/2018 at 15:22

Totally agree. My Boy is much more arts orientated than sports and it is depressing that he may not get the opportunity he needs to express himself in that way. Arts are a great not only for mental health but also for exploring yourself and your world and firing imagination.

    Susie Flintham · 26/09/2018 at 16:31

    It’s a worrying trend that these children are simply not being catered for.
    Do you think an after school Drama club would benefit him?

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