Traditionally, creative activities have been used in occupational therapy practice as an intervention with people who have a mental illness. Recent research has explored engagement in creative activities with people living with disabilities, mental illness, retired people and people with cognitive impairment. The findings centred on positive emotions, increase in self-confidence and respite from worrying thoughts. Anecdotal evidence from local occupational therapy practitioners and arts organisations suggested that people in remission of mental illness seemed to use creative activities in their daily lives as a way to keep well, but deeper understanding was missing about this.
The first aim of this study was to gain a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of voluntary participation in creative activities by people in remission of mental illness. The second aim was to explore and provide evidence of any relationship between well-being and creative activities as it was perceived by the participants.
The research utilised a hermeneutic phenomenological approach. Qualitative data were collected through interviews with participants, transcribed verbatim and analysed within the hermeneutic tradition. Ten participants volunteered and were recruited by mental health NHS staff in central England. All participants had a diagnosis of a mental illness but were in remission from between six months and seven years at the time of the interviews. The data were analysed via my own interpretation of Cohen, Kahn and Steeves’ (2000) approach to hermeneutic phenomenological data analysis.
The findings revealed that for all participants, engagement in their chosen creative activity evoked enjoyment and was of particular personal significance and meaning. Their subjective experiences highlighted the possible therapeutic potential of creative occupation, in particular, temporary mental relief from self-referential thoughts through deep immersion into the creative process. Deep engagement in creative occupation encompassed different types of optimal experience and might have a soothing effect on the Default Mode Network. The deliberate engagement in creative activities supports Wilcock’s theory of the use of occupation for self-restoration and keeping healthy. Additionally, the real contact with people and places facilitated a more active lifestyle which impacted also positively on the participants’ sense of well-being. The findings of the study are discussed from an occupational science perspective to extend our
understanding of the solitary and group nature and effects of participation in creative activities.
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