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Exploring Mental Health and Wellbeing: The role of Arts and Humanities Research

Mental ill health is one of the biggestchallenges society faces in the UK,affecting all ages and crossing the socialspectrum. It accounts for more than 20 percent of the total disease burden in theUK – exceeding cancer and cardiovasculardisease – and it is the leading reason forpeople taking time off work. An estimated one in four people will suffer from a mental health problem at some point during their life. This is a crisis that cannot be tackled by medicine, psychiatry or any single discipline alone.

Mental health research requires a crossdisciplinary approach – and arts and humanities scholars have a key role to play. “Arts and humanities subjects are essential for understanding the complexity and the real-life impact of mental health conditions as they affect both individuals and those around them,” says Professor Martin Halliwell of the University of Leicester, who sits on the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s (AHRC) Science in Culture Advisory Group and is a member of the cross-Research Council Mental Health Experts Group. “The arts and humanities offer a breadth of perspectives, skills and techniques that can reveal a deeper understanding of the causes and experiences of mental illness, and can help to better comprehend both social connectedness and fragmentation for the communities that face it.”

The AHRC has funded research in many different aspects of mental health research in recent years, with an investment of over £10M in 76 projects since 2010. The new cross-disciplinary mental health research agenda, which sees the UK’s seven research councils joining forces to collaborate on mental health research, highlights the importance of including the arts and humanities input in this area.