The difference the arts makes in healthcare

World Health Organization

Published in 2019, the WHO produced a report which had looked at 3,500 published studies looking at the global evidence on the role of the arts in improving health and well-being.

The report's conclusion

The arts had potential in contributing to the core determinants of health; playing a critical role in health promotion; helping to prevent the onset of mental illness and age-related physical decline; supporting the treatment or management of mental illness, noncommunicable diseases and neurological disorders; and assisting in acute and end-of-life care

Read the report here: What is the evidence on the role of the arts in improving health and well-being? A scoping review (

British Medical Journal

An opinion piece in the BMJ, published in 2019 following the WHO report.

Here is a short edited snapshot from the 840 word piece.

The arts have been found to reduce psychological and biological markers of stress and improve immune response.

For people with neurodevelopmental and neurological disorders (including autistic spectrum disorders, cerebral palsy, stroke and dementias) and non-communicable diseases (including cancer, respiratory disease and cardiovascular conditions) engaging with the arts has been found to improve mental health, resilience, communication and physical function.

The role of the arts in improving patient experience and providing emotional support in palliative and end-of-life care and bereavement is also well documented.

Read more here: The role of the arts within health – The BMJ

Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport

In April 2020, a report to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport found art had a significant role to play in health and wellbeing.

Some of the findings from the report

The use of book reading can support child social development

The use of music or reading helps speech and language development amongst infants and children

The use of the arts can improve wellbeing (i.e. positive psychological factors) in adults

The use of the arts helps to reduce physical decline in older age.

Read more here: Evidence Summary for Policy The role of arts in improving health and wellbeing

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing (APPGAHW)

This report represents two years of research, evidence-gathering and discussions with patients, health and social care professionals, artists and arts administrators, academics, people in local government, ministers, other policy-makers and parliamentarians from both Houses of Parliament. Partners included the National Alliance for Arts, Health and Wellbeing, King’s College London, the Royal Society for Public Health and Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity.

A short snapshot of the report's findings
A mental health recovery centre co-designed by service users in Wales is estimated to save the NHS £300k per year.

Participatory arts activities help to alleviate anxiety, depression and stress both within and outside of work.

Over the past two centuries, life expectancy has increased by two years every decade, meaning that half of people being born in the West can expect to reach 100. Arts participation is a vital part of healthy ageing.

£1 spent on early care and education has been calculated to save up to £13 in future costs.

Participatory arts activities with children improve their cognitive, linguistic, social and emotional development and enhance school readiness.

Arts therapies have been found to alleviate anxiety, depression and stress while increasing resilience and wellbeing.

Visual and performing arts in healthcare environments help to reduce sickness, anxiety and stress.


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Page last reviewed: 20 February, 2023