Project wins funding to tackle depression through arts

A pioneering project led by Edge Hill University and developed in collaboration with the University of Salford, which uses the arts to tackle depression, has been awarded new funding to scale up across the North West of England. 

Arts for the Blues is a collaborative research project between artists, therapists, universities, NHS trusts and cultural institutions. It has been developed to address a vital need in the North West, which has high levels of mental health problems, exacerbated by economic conditions and the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Now, the team behind the project has been awarded £145,000 from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) to build on these positive results. 

Currently, mental health provision predominantly focusses on talking-based therapies. However, this excludes many people for whom talking therapy is not a viable treatment; including those who struggle with verbal communication or don’t have a strong command of English. 

The high levels of drop-out from primary care mental health services (IAPT) – calculated at 63% by NHS Digital in 2021 – show that further options are needed, which is why Arts for the Blues has been developed.  By using a creative psychological therapy that encompasses movement, visual arts, drama, music, creative writing and talking, people can experience and express emotions, share with others, and develop useful techniques to use outside of the therapy. 

Over the last five years, the project has worked with hundreds of adults and children in schools and mental health services across the North West. Results from adults showed decrease in anxiety and an upturn in wellbeing. A pilot trial with 56 children suffering emotional or behavioural difficulties was similarly successful; 12 months after the intervention, there were sustained improvements in their quality of life, quality of sleep and overall wellbeing.

The AHRC funding boost will facilitate working with healthcare and cultural institutions in the region providing training to develop the skills to deliver the interventions themselves as well as co-produce a strategy of scaling up the Arts for the Blues model across the North West. 

Professor Vicky Karkou, Director for the Research Centre for Arts and Wellbeing at Edge Hill University, is the principal investigator and said of the news:

“Arts for the Blues has already shown how it can have a tremendous impact, using a new approach to tackle a massive problem. I’d like to thank AHRC for this support, which enables us to expand on this progress and improve even more people’s lives across the North West.” 

Dr Scott Thurston, Reader in English and Creative Writing at the University of Salford, and co-investigator on the project said:

“It was really refreshing that the AHRC recognises the impact of arts and culture, nature and other forms of community assets in addressing health inequalities and decided to focus this funding on scalability. We feel that Arts for the Blues has so much more to give to the North-West and can’t wait to find out how best to expand what we do.” 

Dr Joanna Omylinska-Thurston, Counselling Psychologist at Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Trust and Lecturer in Counselling and Psychotherapy at the University of Salford, is also a co-investigator in this project and co-founder of Arts for the Blues. She said:

“I’m particularly interested in bringing Arts for the Blues to Improving Access to Psychological Psychotherapies (IAPT), to offer clients a wider choice of treatments in order to address significant health inequalities in the region. Clients and staff in the NHS ask for creative interventions and I am delighted we received funding from AHRC to offer Arts for the Blues to them. This sounds really exciting and I look forward to enabling this across the North West.”

Edge Hill’s Research Centre for Arts and Wellbeing has developed over the last decade from an active research group which has engaged in interdisciplinary research activities in the form of research projects, publications, events and masterclasses.

Healing Arts New York

In November 2021, The Arts for the Blues project was featured at the Healing Arts New York symposium at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. This exciting event showcased arts and wellbeing projects around the world, including the Art for the Blues. Watch the video, shown as part of the event at The Met and online, here:

Training day event

16 January 2021

This weekend we had such an inspiring day with a wonderful group of therapists, counsellors, psychologists and psychiatrists, who together explored the creative possibilities for online delivery of the Arts for the Blues model. 

We are so thankful to connect with everyone. 

Here are some of the creative outputs from the day! 

Who are you? How do you feel right now? Introducing ourselves using a whiteboard (beginning of workshop)


How do you feel now? (closing of workshop)



A poem by Scott Thurston, compiled from chat contributions during the Arts for the Blues training event

I. Beginnings


Stretched out we float, flow expansively:

A blooming ripple, roots open, spinning

Round and spiralling here, a dizzy star.


The whole centre is full. Slowly it’s pulled,

Swirling, bubbling, here! Wide dozzy dizzy

Butterflies landed, moulding fire symbolism.


We are rotating, within without, fluid

Drifting: absorbing slow, open sprinkles.

Let’s go changemakers!


We are fragments in a bubbling bucket:

warm, hopeful, bright, emerging smiles

absorbed in playful flourish.


II. Closings


My confidence grew as the day progressed.

Just what I would hope would happen over

the course of creativity and connection.


All that you need you have already, it might just be

in disguise. Bring the creative and the therapeutic

closer together, outside the box.


Fun and connection, re-resource and re-connect

with how I can use our creative skills on the line.

A community is taking shape, fertile.

Nourished and resourced by deeper understanding

of process and components, how to integrate into

who I am.



Real connection

to the value of



Creating a group ‘story’, one example of a creative activity with therapeutic underpinning that could be delivered online.  Here we used a whiteboard on Zoom to create an island, exploring opportunities, challenges and relationships using imagery, symbolism and metaphor (key ingredient:processing at a deeper level).

Supritha Aithal

We ended with a wonderful group movement and sound sequence led by Supritha, a dance movement therapist and Bharatanatyam dancer, who made four distinct sounds which we each connected to an individual movement. From these four movements we created our own sequence that we played with through sound and shared as a group, connecting us to each other through sound and movement. What a fabulous way to end the day!

Arts and Therapy in the Time of the Pandemic

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From Thursday 18th June 2020

In collaboration with the International Arts Therapies Doctoral Alliance led by New York University, a series of presentations, panel discussions and workshops will be recorded and showcased online, exploring the contribution of the arts and arts psychotherapies to health and wellbeing during the 2020 pandemic .

Guest speakers and panelists will present current initiatives and research on the physiological and psychological benefits of the arts. In particular discussions will focus on the contributions that the arts therapies can make to tackle isolation, loneliness, offer opportunities for resilience and support for the wellbeing of the general public, health and social care staff and patients. Ways in which the arts therapies can act as psychological interventions for the prevention and treatment of depression, anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder will also be explored, highlighting the value of this field at times of crisis. 

Videos will also be posted via twitter with the hashtag #artstherapiescovid19 we would like to encourage everyone to use this tag to provide your thoughts and any creative responses to the resources and together create a forum where we can meet and share.

Keynote presentation by Christopher Bailey, Arts & Health Lead at the World Health Organisation ‘Composed at Present, Composing the Future:  Arts and Healing in the COVID world. This is followed by a Panel Discussion exploring the role of arts and arts therapies in the context of the pandemic, with the four featured arts therapists below (Dr Nisha Sajnani, Prof Felicity Baker, Prof Vicky Karkou and Dr Azizah Abdullah).

Short 1min 30 taster

Full length presentation and panel discussion 1hr4min

A series of presentations from prominent international arts therapists talking about how their discipline and research activities can contribute to health and wellbeing during the times of the pandemic.

Vicky Karkou staff photo

Workshops and reflections of internationally recognised practitioners in dance movement psychotherapy, art psychotherapy, music therapy and drama therapy.

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Creative Resilience and going OFFLine during Lockdown

As part of Voluntary Arts’ Creative Network, I was recently invited to talk with Nick Ewbank, Chair of ISR’s External Advisory Group, about everyday creativity in the context of the response to COVID-19. In particular, we were looking at David Gauntlett’s definition and how he emphasises the idea of ‘making is connecting’, and advocates the importance of the internet for creative people. 

Nick subsequently published his own compelling, and more nuanced, understanding of everyday creativity and its potentially vital role in helping to heal the damage done by the lockdown, in an article last week for Arts Professional. In calling for a paradigm shift, Nick argues that the ‘initial goal should be to reach a shared, science-based understanding of the central importance of everyday creativity in our lives’. 

Certainly, the cultural sector has done much to try to support people through what has been a distressing period, if we consider the ways in which theatres, museums, dance companies and musicians inter alia have made their work available for free online. However, the way people have applied themselves to creative challenges at home, supported by various initiatives such as Voluntary Arts’ Get Creative at Home or Fun Palace’s Tiny Revolutions of Connection, is potentially more significant, most especially because not everyone has access to the internet or smart technology. If nothing else, what the pandemic has laid bare is the stark digital divide that pertains in the UK; wherein large swathes of the population remain isolated, unable to benefit from these online cultural resources and opportunities.

In my own recent article with Tristi Brownett, we argued that community cultural festivals can be important generators of wellbeing through their ‘collective effervescence’. Even if physicaldistancing means festival spaces are not open to us at the moment, community initiatives are heartwarmingly proving that people are not socially distanced. They remain collectively effervescent, and creative in their resilience. The Leigh Film Society volunteers, for example, have been busy delivering orange bags containing DVDs to families who do not have access to online streaming services. Meanwhile, in Leeds, Mini Playbox is a community partnership project between artists distributing boxes of creativity, activities and fun during lockdown. The emphasis here is on OFFline activities for families and individuals within communities, and this is happening within communities all over the UK.

The value of everyday creativity, both online and off, should be at the heart of a resilient, sustainable, caring society that supports, protects and nurtures the health and wellbeing of all its citizens.

Prof Owen Evans is a Professor of Film in the Department of Media at Edge Hill University and a member of the Research Centre for Arts and Wellbeing

Edge Hill highlights Wellbeing for All during Mental Health Awareness Week

During this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week Edge Hill is highlighting the huge range of support their wellbeing teams have put together for students and staff.

As everyone adjusts to life in lockdown the University is reminding everyone that they are part of the Edge Hill community and have the support of hundreds of classmates and colleagues. 

To help students and staff stay aware of both their own mental health and the mental health of others Edge Hill set up an online Wellbeing Hub. The hub gives access to a wide range of resources that offer advice on how to cope during lockdown and how to help others who might be struggling. 

Amanda Herrity, Staff Wellbeing, Development and Engagement Lead at Edge Hill University said:

“Before this pandemic happened, we had established a strategic framework, Wellbeing for All, which is made up of key partners from both Human Resources and Student Services.

“Having this group has enabled us to get our wellbeing support in place quickly for both our students and staff. Early on in the pandemic we had launched a wellbeing hub which contains information on how to support yourself and others, which is based on the NHS five ways to wellbeing; take notice, keep learning, connect, give and be active.”

As well as the hub Edge Hill is encouraging staff to take part in the Pulse Survey which launched today (18th May). The aim is to gain an insight into how the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown are impacting on people’s activity, work and health.  

The logo for the staff pulse survey.

The University has also offered training to all staff so that they feel confident in supporting others, talking to students and knowing how and when to refer them for more support. Staff can access the training here –

However, it is also important to recognise everyone is experiencing lockdown differently and some people might be struggling with their own mental health. We asked Dan Cross, the Director of bereavement charity Strong Men, how he is coping in lockdown and what advice he would give to our students and staff. Dan has previously visited Edge Hill to share his powerful story of coping with the loss of his wife.

Dan Cross said:

“If you are struggling a little bit too much don’t be afraid to ask for support. Whether you’re staff or a student support is available to you, just ask for it if you need it. Above all stay positive, keep your chin up, stay in touch with friends and family and we’ll get through this together.”

You can watch Dan’s lovely message on how to stay resilient in full here

This week please check out the resources that have been made available for students, staff and the general public:

  • Edge Hill has launched a dedicated Wellbeing Support Service that our staff and frontline students can access. This service will connect staff with qualified counsellors, for issues centred around the current covid-19 pandemic.  The help on offer can focus on ways of finding solutions to problems, ways of coping or just a safe place to talk.
  • Edge Hill has opened up the “Big White Wall” to all staff and students which provides access to a 24/7 online community and professional support from trained counsellors.
  • The Wellbeing and Counselling Team is continuing to offer telephone appointments. These can be booked either by emailing [email protected] or by following the link
  • Edge Hill have partnered with mental fitness app Fika during this COVID-19 period, enabling all students to access Fika’s COVID-19 package for free
  • The University have put together a range of COVID-19 specific online materials which can be accessed via the link
  • The Campus Life team have created a full programme of online events to help students feel part of the Edge Hill community, wherever they are in the world. Activities include Netflix watch parties, weekly competitions and live chat sessions.

It is hoped that this package of support will help students and staff stay mentally strong during lockdown so that when the pandemic is over we are all ready to return to campus happy and ready to learn.

If you’re a student and need advice and support for your wellbeing, email [email protected].

If you’re a member of staff, the wellbeing and development team are available by email [email protected] to provide support.