Doctors in Brussels can prescribe museum trips for mental health
Mental health problems are on the rise, and the impact of the pandemic hasn’t helped stem the tide. There are many ways to improve our mental well-being. Recent studies have shown that arts and culture can benefit our mental health—including reducing our anxiety and depression and even improving our critical thinking skills. Doctors in Brussels take this type of research seriously and put scientific work into practice. You can now prescribe a visit to a museum or gallery in town to combat those encroaching blues.
This innovative initiative is a pilot program that gives museum visits the status of a psychological treatment. The program is currently collaborating with four Brussels museums and an arts centre. Johan Newell, psychiatrist at the Brugmann University Hospital, emphasizes that the museum visits should not be a solution but a tool in the healing process, along with other interventions such as therapy, medication and lifestyle adjustments. “I think almost everyone could benefit from it,” he says. Patients consult their doctor before and after their excursions.
Patients with a museum prescription get free entry to explore the old underground passages of the Sewer Museum, stroll slowly through the galleries of the contemporary CENTRALE and lose yourself among the old textiles in the Fashion and Lace Museum, among other things.
But what evidence is there that this new approach actually works? According to a review by the World Health Organization, the results of over 3,000 studies spanning two decades have shown that the arts play an important role in preventing disease, promoting health, and managing and treating disease throughout a person’s lifespan. “The beneficial effects of the arts could be furthered by acknowledging and acting on the growing evidence base,” says the literature. It also proposes promoting artistic engagement at individual, local and national levels and supporting cross-sectoral collaboration, as Brussels’ doctors and museums are doing.
Montreal was the first city in the world to introduce museum recipes as a treatment tool. “By providing free entry to a safe, welcoming place, a relaxing, revitalizing experience, a moment of quiet, and an opportunity to strengthen bonds with loved ones, MMFA-MFdC museum recipes contribute to patient well-being and recovery.” the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts website explains. His projects not only support people with mental health problems, but also provide help for people with eating disorders, those on the autism spectrum, people with intellectual disabilities, epilepsy, cancer, Alzheimer’s and the elderly.
Research from the University of London shows that looking at a work of art that they find particularly beautiful releases dopamine in the brain — we literally get the same natural chemical hit when we look at cultural marvels or beauties as when we fall in love. Indeed, this is not new thinking in the history of our species. The German philosopher Hegel believed that art offers intuitive benefits to the viewer by showing us what earthly and divine freedom can look like. Plato also believed that the arts strongly shaped character, directly influencing our emotions and views.
That’s more than the proverbial apple a day; If we all spend time exploring our local museums and galleries, perhaps we will experience a deeper sense of fulfillment and connection. And if you’re in Brussels and your depression has gotten too bad, a prescription for free entry to a museum could be just what your doctor ordered.
Doctors in Brussels can now prescribe museum visits for patients struggling with their mental health.
Mandatory museum visits are not a solution, but part of a broader treatment plan.
Studies have shown that art and culture can promote our mental health.
h/d: [Open Culture]
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