darts (Doncaster Community Arts) submission of a story that represents personal experiences of the impact of creativity, culture and the arts on health and wellbeing.
Doncaster is lucky enough to have a Social Prescribing Service, commissioned through the Better Care Fund by Public Health and the Clinical Commissioning Group. The service has been delivered by South Yorkshire Housing Association following a pilot in 2014 and is now firmly embedded within GP’s practice with 47 of the 48 GP practices referring regularly to Social Prescribing.
Whilst the current model does not resource community based activity, Social Prescribing staff – and an increasing number of GPs – are well connected with creative programmes such as the ones darts (Doncaster Community Arts) deliver. One example is Creative Directions – a weekly opportunity for adults who experience mental ill health to engage in a wide range of immersive, enjoyable and meaningful creative activity.
Laura* first met a member of the Social Prescribing team in 2017, having presented at her GP eight times in the preceding three months. At that point she had not left her home for twelve months (except to go to her GP), and was dependant on her husband to take their daughter to school and do the shopping. Laura was socially isolated and had no social interaction with friends due to her fear of being judged for her physical appearance. She would not stand in her garden for fear of her neighbours seeing her.
Laura told her Social Prescribing Advisor, Sarah that she has suffered from depression for many years following a traumatic childhood and abuse from her parents. She was taking medication but had never accessed support services for her depression. Laura is described as morbidly obese and has been receiving treatment from weight management services at Doncaster Royal Infirmary. She had not been accepted for Bariatric Surgery and was advised to lose weight before she could be reconsidered.
Based on Laura’s interests such as art, music and creative writing, Sarah introduced her to Creative Directions at The Point, run by darts (Doncaster Community Arts), where she took part in creative writing, art and music sessions. Sarah accompanied Laura for six weeks whilst she became integrated into the group and made friends. Once she grew in confidence, Sarah withdrew.
Here – in Laura’s own words – are the longer term impacts of attending Creative Directions:
“As a person with mental health issues and a learning disability, going to a new place is always an extremely difficult process for me. I was apprehensive about my first Creative Direction session because I had been housebound for almost six months and the concept of being around other people terrified me. Upon arrival, I experienced a panic attack but the group’s leader (Jamie) came and spoke to me in a calm manner and I gained the confidence I needed to enter the room and meet the group. My anxiety was high and I struggled to relax fully but I found that the group were all friendly and welcoming, not to mention that the staff and volunteers were adaptive to my needs.
As the weeks progressed I grew more comfortable and gained the ability to talk in front of a group, even finding the confidence to contribute ideas. On top of this, I’ve had the chance to discover new things, develop new skills and try things that I would never have otherwise.
I am now at a stage where Creative Directions is one of the most important things in my life. I feel comfortable and safe knowing that help and support are always available. The group has grown to feel like a family to me. I really have to stress at this point that attending these sessions has been fundamental in my recovery process. I have much more confidence and for the first time in years, I actually have something to look forward to.
I want to thank all the volunteers, staff and funders that make Creative Directions possible. I really mean from the bottom of my heart that you are all amazing. I’ve been attending since March 2017 and it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. The group is exactly the supportive and relaxed environment that mental health sufferers need. It’s brightened my life up and I know it will brighten others too.”
Laura has told darts staff that coming to Creative Directions has had more of an impact on her mental health than any medication or other form of treatment. She said that before coming to Creative Directions, she was unable to leave the house and using public transport was impossible. She had a fear of touching other people and was not even able to touch her own daughter. She had to rely on her partner to dress her daughter, bathe her, play with her etc. and couldn’t even give cuddles. Since coming to Creative Directions she can do all of these things and using public transport is no longer an issue.
Laura’s partner also struggles with his mental health and used to spend a lot of time at home. When Laura experienced the positive impact of coming to Creative Directions, she gradually persuaded him to join her on occasion.
Laura has always enjoyed writing and posts a lot of creative writing online. Through Creative Directions she developed the confidence to share her writing with other participants and took part in the ‘progression sessions’ with darts’ film-maker, Jim, sharing her love of writing in a short film.
Laura is now a regular presence at other darts events, bringing her daughter to family workshops regularly as well as volunteering to speak at sharing events – a huge leap forward. Laura has lost weight through an increased exercise programme, and although the fear of being judged on her appearance is ongoing, she is better able to cope with the anxiety that this creates.
The number of GP visits has reduced dramatically to just one visit in the three months following Social Prescribing interventions.
*Name has been changed
Here is a short film sharing the experiences of people who connect with the Creative Directions project.
Further information about darts and their mental health work can be found here: https://www.thepoint.org.uk/how-does-darts-work-with-mental-health/