Creativity and culture can support mental health if researchers...


  • Work with practitioners and people with lived experience from the beginning right through to the conclusion of your research, ensuring that this partnership begins at the design stage, before bids are drawn up and doesn’t dissipate when it comes to publication and dissemination.
  • Ensure you pay the people you are working with: if you are consulting with practitioners and/or people with lived experience, make sure you compensate for their time from the first meeting onwards – especially those who are self-employed or not in employment. Remember that people you approach may not feel able to ask for this; support your partners by offering compensation from the beginning.
  • A substantial proportion of creative and cultural work for mental health is led by people with their own experience of mental health challenges or the mental health system. This leadership by lived experience is hugely beneficial and should be supported at every level of research governance, strategy, design and delivery by providing additional support where it is needed, and ensuring institutional practice is founded on this knowledge.
  • Consider the implications of the power dynamics between research institutions, freelance practitioners, people with lived experience and small organisations – and work towards creating an open and equal space for collaboration.
  • Commit to meeting partners halfway by being open to different languages and priorities.

Support practice

The sector has very limited capacity. Practitioners’ workloads often leave little space to engage with research outputs and structures, which can seem impenetrable to people already working across multiple languages: arts, health, local government, funding etc.

  • Consider how your institution might be able to support local arts and mental health networks.
  • Use language that ensures the people you are describing can relate to the research and can support its design.
  • Publish with open access where possible.
  • Work with practice and lived experience networks to develop calls for participation.
  • Work with infrastructure organisations to provide concise information to practitioners about relevant research, translating key elements into accessible forms that can support funding bids and the development of practice.
  • Help local practitioners find you and understand how they might be able to work with you.


  • Prioritise long-term research that is based on building long-term partnerships with practice and people with lived experience.
  • Help us understand the ways in which culture and creativity act on the social determinants of health and health equity.
  • Research into impact has historically been dominated by white Western methodologies and art forms; ensure that research tackles this cultural bias and is representative of the people receiving the least benefit from current health and cultural systems (see Diversity & Inclusion on page 6 of the full report).
  • Ensure that the detail of practice, not just outcomes, is represented in research (see Missing voices in culture, health and wellbeing research, Centre for Cultural Value 2021).
  • Support the sector’s work to evaluate its own practice.*

See also a cross-disciplinary, co-produced research agenda set out by Fancourt et al. in 2020: Fancourt, D., Bhui, K., Chatterjee, H., Crawford, P., Crossick, G., DeNora, T. & South, J. (2020). Social, cultural and community engagement and mental health: cross-disciplinary, co-produced research agenda (2020). BJPsych Open 7(1). bjo.2020.133.

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* A number of participants in the process of building this model have spoken about the need for a standard evaluation framework. Thus far attempts to produce a catchall framework have proved unsatisfactory. We suggest that the fluid working practices that define the arts and mental health will always require multiple means of evaluation. Ongoing conversations with practitioners and research teams suggest a more sustainable approach might be to strengthen a theory of change approach. Once a theory of change is clear, any number of frameworks are available (for example those included in our Evaluation resource).