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Creative Health Review Response: The Role of Music in Promoting Health & Wellbeing

The Creative Health Review highlights the powerful impact music has on improving health and well-being. Released on December 6, 2023, this study by the National Centre for Creative Health and a parliamentary group emphasizes that music is more than entertainment—it's a key method for healing and emotional support. This is especially true considering health inequalities and the challenges left by Covid-19.

The review discusses how music, as part of 'creative health', offers a growing evidence base which suggests it helps prevent health issues across all ages and settings, beyond traditional medical care. This not only enhances health outcomes but also could reduce healthcare costs. The report suggests integrating creative health into broader health and social care strategies, benefiting communities and potentially saving public money by improving well-being through creative health modalities. We delve into the connections between the review's findings and the principles guiding Music for Good.

Creative Health - The Vision

The Creative Health Review paints a picture of a future where arts and creativity are not just nice extras but vital parts of health care, social services, and education. It talks about a world where "creativity will be recognised by the general public, healthcare professionals, and policymakers as a resource to support health and wellbeing across the life course, and its benefits will be accessible to all." This means everyone agrees that creative health is important and can help break the mold of traditional health care, making life better for people of all ages.

The review really pushes for making things more personal and getting communities involved. It talks about the need for "development of person-centred and community-led approaches, informed by lived experience." This is about using what we already have in terms of arts, culture, and community resources to meet what people really need and to ensure equal access to these creative health opportunities for all.

There's also a big call for setting up "a sustainable and supportive infrastructure for creative health, including opportunities for training and development." This is about creating a strong support system for people working in creative health, giving them the training they need so they can bring their art skills into health and social care in a way that really helps ease the load on these systems.

At its heart, the Creative Health Review sees arts and creativity as key pieces of a modern approach to health and social care, one that brings about "better outcomes for individuals, communities, public services, and systems." This forward-looking view sees creative health not just as an add- on but as a core part of how we look after our health and wellbeing, ready to change the way we think about and engage with health care for the better.

Where does Music feature in the Review?

The capacity music has to address a wide array of health concerns is well-documented in the review:

* Cancer Treatment Side-Effects: "Creative activities including music and visual art making have been used alongside cancer treatment to relieve the side-effects of chemotherapy, reduce pain, and reduce anxiety, depression and stress" (p.26).

* Chronic Pain Management: Reflecting on the shift towards non-pharmacological interventions, "Ninety-six percent of participants in creative programmes reported a statistically meaningful improvement in general wellbeing" (Gloucestershire Creative Health Consortium).

* Cognitive Decline and Dementia: "Music-making can slow cognitive decline and improve wellbeing for people living with dementia“ (p.21), illustrating music's profound impact on mental health and cognitive function.

* Respiratory Conditions: Echoing the success of Singing for Health, music-based initiatives have demonstrated significant improvements in lung health, mirroring the benefits seen in singing interventions.

* Mental Health: The review emphasizes the holistic benefits of music, stating that "Group singing has a plethora of mental health and wellbeing benefits" (p.44), highlighting the power of music to improve social connection and mental health.

Beyond these benefits, music has also been recognized in the review for its role in aiding recovery from stroke, addressing mental health challenges, providing comfort during bereavement, enhancing cardiovascular health, mitigating feelings of loneliness and isolation, supporting individuals through postnatal depression, facilitating emotional regulation, boosting self-confidence, and improving the overall quality of life.

This list demonstrates the broad therapeutic potential of music across various physical and mental health conditions.

Introduction to Creative Health through Music Education

Bridging the gap between the therapeutic applications of music in healthcare and its profound impact within music education, the review illuminates a holistic approach to well-being through creative engagement.

Music is recognized as both a Secondary and Tertiary approach to enriching lives and fostering health across various dimensions. "The Evaluation of Big Noise (Sistema Scotland), an immersive music education programme providing orchestral activities for children from low- income backgrounds has explored the impact of school- based arts interventions. Qualitative evaluation found that the programme positively affects children across seven main areas”:

Educational (concentration, listening, coordination, language development, school attendance, school outcomes)

Life Skills (problem-solving, decision-making, creativity, determination, self-discipline, leadership)

Emotional (happiness, security, pride, self- esteem, emotional intelligence, an emotional outlet, resilience)

Social (social mixing, social skills, cultural awareness, diverse friendships, strong friendships, support networks)

Musical (instrument skills, reading music, performance skills, music career options, access to other music organisations)

Physical (healthy snacks, opportunities for games/exercise, creating healthy habits for adulthood)

Protection (someone to confide in, calm environment, safe environment, reduced stress).

“The evaluation continues to look at health and social outcomes as participants reach school- leaving age, in comparison to children from similar backgrounds who did not take part in the programme. Quantitative analysis of educational outcomes shows that participants in Big Noise were more likely to achieve a positive post-school destination, including employment, and indicated benefits in educational attainment.”

The outcome of this research shows us that it's not just about learning music; it's about equipping these young individuals with essential skills that contribute to their academic success, enhance their problem-solving capabilities, boost their emotional well-being, and foster stronger social connections. Furthermore, participation in such programmes has been linked to better outcomes beyond schooling, including higher chances of securing employment. This demonstrates the broader societal benefits of integrating music and creative arts into educational strategies. Recognizing the value of music education as a tool for personal and community development is crucial for shaping policies that support holistic growth and equal opportunities for all young individuals, thereby enriching society at large.

For educators and social prescribers eager to explore educational methods utilising music to promote well-being, please consult our referral form for detailed information on how to engage.

Our tailored music programs are dedicated to providing high-quality, inclusive music-making opportunities that promote the life-changing powers of music. These programs support and inspire young people facing barriers to their learning and personal development. By integrating creative expression into our offerings, we enable educational institutions to create supportive environments that nurture students' abilities to cope with challenges and progress in their educational journey.

Additionally, our recent blog post: “Every brain is unique! Working with Music and Autism” presents case studies on working with neurodivergent young people, sharing insights into their growth, challenges, and notable successes. You can read this informative post here. Also, be sure to listen to our podcast: “Outside the Mainstream - Working in Alternative and Specialist Education Settings”, which offers an in-depth look at the role of creative health within diverse educational landscapes.

Social Prescribing: A Pathway to Wellbeing

Social prescribing has become a key aspect of personalized care, with the aim to link individuals to community-based support for non-medical needs. Recognizing that "around 20% of GP appointments are for non-medical reasons," social prescribing serves as a direct response to the demand for services that address social, emotional, or practical needs outside the conventional medical framework. The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has backed this initiative, significantly investing in the National Academy for Social Prescribing (NASP) to bolster its application, notably exceeding its target by supporting over 900,000 people ahead of the 2023/24 goal.

At the core of social prescribing is creative health, regarded as one of its four pillars, highlighting the vital connection between community engagement in creative activities and improved health outcomes. Reports indicate that participating in arts and music through social prescribing can "lead to benefits in relation to social interaction, decreased stress, adoption of healthy behaviours and improved outcomes in skills and employment." Moreover, programs like Artlift have underscored the efficiency of creative health interventions, demonstrating a "37% reduction in consultations," which translates into significant NHS savings.

In Cornwall, where Music for Good is based, social prescribing has been innovatively applied to address mental health challenges, specifically targeting suicide prevention with projects that integrate creative activities like music and digital photography. This localized approach to social prescribing exemplifies its flexibility and capacity to meet diverse community needs, proving its significance in today's healthcare landscape. (p.46)

To further explore the impact and benefits of social prescribing, we encourage you to check out our resources that highlight its efficacy. Watch our video titled 'Music Prescribed for Wellbeing in a GP Surgery' Project, which showcases how music is making a difference in community health settings. For more personal stories and expert discussions, tune into our podcast, 'Music on Prescription - Music and Social Prescribing', which dives into the transformative power of music within social prescribing frameworks. Additionally, don’t miss our blog post detailing the successes of the Singing for Lung Health program in Cornwall, where significant health benefits have been observed among participants. Read about this innovative approach here. These resources offer valuable insights into how creative health practices are integrated into social prescribing to enhance community well-being.

Implication for Music for Good

It's encouraging to witness the significant role Music for Good plays within the broader narrative of the Creative Health Review. This acknowledgment reflects the sector's growth and the increasing recognition of the role music plays in enhancing well-being.The review suggests a brighter future for creative health, emphasizing the need for greater support from both the government and various sectors. In response, we advise those involved with Music for Good to:

  • Link their efforts closely with research to base their initiatives on solid evidence.

  • Track and share the benefits of their music projects, emphasizing health improvements to highlight music's critical role in healthcare.

  • Use the Creative Health Review as a tool in advocacy, leveraging its insights to champion the value of music in health and wellness.

By following these steps, Music for Good can continue to pioneer in the creative health arena, demonstrating the essential contribution music offers in health, well-being and influencing healthcare practices and policies.

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