Research digest: Young people’s mental health

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Research digest: Young people’s mental health

Image of three young people in a museum setting doing craft activities, smiling
© Fusion Programme, Swansea 2019. Photo: Amina Abu-Shahba

By Robyn Dowlen, Centre for Cultural Value


Since the Covid pandemic there has been much attention on children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing. But where do arts and cultural programmes fit into this picture?

Our latest research digest, Young people’s mental health, explores the evidence to provide a snapshot of the current thinking.

In recent years there’s been an increased interest in the role arts and culture can play in the mental health of young people. 

With 1 in 10 young people estimated to be living with a mental health diagnosis in the UK, where do arts and cultural programmes fit into this picture, and how can they positively impact the mental health of children and young people? 

In our latest research digest, we explore the evidence to present a snapshot of current research and thinking in this area. 

As well as identifying our own broad review questions, we held a workshop with cultural practitioners to understand what kinds of questions would be of most value to the sector. With these questions in mind, we looked in-depth at 20 peer-reviewed studies to summarise the evidence.

Key findings

  • Music programmes were most represented within the literature, with music composition and lyric writing in particular offering young people a creative outlet, as well as a way to cope with challenging circumstances and reflect on trauma.
  • Some of the studies demonstrated that engaging with culture helped young people cope with difficult feelings and acts as a distraction from negative thoughts. The phrase ‘safe space’ was a recurring theme in the literature.
  • While there’s promising evidence of the positive value of cultural experiences, there were some instances of increases in challenging behaviours or participation leading to a re-living of traumatic experiences.
  • Qualitative evidence was strong, but we could not draw meaningful conclusion from the quantitative evidence we looked at. There is a need to further explore concepts of safe spaces, the role cultural practitioners have in these complex contexts and to look at longer-term outcomes through mixed methods of research.

Download the digest to read the findings in full.

Published: 2021
Resource type: Research