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How humanities research can benefit health and wellbeing

In May, we co-organised an event with the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) that celebrated the impact of arts and humanities research initiatives on health and wellbeing.

Chaired by Professor Sir Paul Nurse at the Francis Crick Institute, the event brought together researchers from across the UK to showcase how non-clinical interventions rooted in humanities research could have a transformative effect on the health outcomes and healthy ageing of the population. Researchers gave short illustrations of their work and the evidence they had amassed to a mixed audience of policymakers, local councillors, charities, community organisations and healthcare professionals.

The event featured a showcase of fascinating health-focused research initiatives from across the UK.

The first project, HUG, was introduced by Prof Cathy Treadaway from Cardiff Metropolitan University. HUG is a sensory product designed to comfort people living with dementia. Inside the soft body is a speaker with a beating heart and the ability to play a favourite playlist of music. Evaluations of HUG found that it  reduced loneliness and isolation, provided reassurance and reduced agitation, improved proprioception and reduced falls among users.

A second project, led by Prof Ulrika Maude at the University of Bristol, provided evidence of the benefits of taking an intercalated BA in Medical Humanities for medical students. Pre-clinical doctors were offered courses in the History and Philosophy of Medicine, Literature and Medicine, and on Death, Dying and Disease, which transformed their clinical understanding and practice as health professionals. Students who took the course reported improved doctor-patient relationships, creativity, skills and overall professional and personal well-being. Over 95% said it improved their writing, made them a better doctor and enhanced their clinical practice. All said it  helped them consider alternative approaches to patient care.

The third project, Branching Out, led by Prof Nicola Walshe at UCL, addresses mental health inequalities in schools by increasing their access to art and nature. Children participating in Artscaping projects gained in confidence, improved their relationships and said they felt happier with their lives and were more confident about what the future held for them. This pilot project is part of an AHRC-led multi-disciplinary programme led by Prof Helen Chatterjee (UCL) to understand how best to integrate culture, natural and community assets within the changing structures of health and social care to support the poorest people living in the most deprived areas.

The final project, ENLIVEN, led by Prof Linda Clare at the University of Exeter and presented by Prof Christina Victor from Brunel University London, looks at ways to extend active life for older people with cognitive impairments by exploring the way visitor and outdoor centres could facilitate access for them and their families. Business and organisations are key to supporting the inclusivity of those with cognitive impairment being able to engage in outdoor activities. The project’s aim is to support a dementia friendly nature-based visitor economy.

To conclude the meeting, Dr Jaideep Gupte, Director of Research, Strategy and Innovation at the AHRC spoke of the way creative methods can play a powerful role in addressing national priorities like health inequalities leading to a dynamic and growing portfolio of arts and humanities initiatives on health, wellbeing and ageing.

The event was the third in a series of events led by the School of Advanced Study and the AHRC that are celebrating the impact of arts and humanities research. In line with our National Role as a champion for the arts and humanities in the UK, these events seek to engage people outside of the academic community, and advocate for the vital role played by arts and humanities research to our society and culture.

Championing the Humanities

Find out more about our national work advocating for the value of arts and humanities research.

Find out more