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12 April 2022

New study demonstrates importance of art and mental health innovations

An evaluation of a National Gallery audio tour, co-developed with young people, has highlighted the value of the arts in raising awareness about mental health.

NG tour photo2

The study, published in Arts & Health, assessed the success of the development and implementation of the National Gallery mental health awareness audio tour. The audio tour was co-created by researchers at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s, in collaboration with The National Gallery, The McPin Foundation, Antenna International, and young people with lived experience of mental health issues.

Through interviews with developers and data-collectors who had gathered visitor feedback, the researchers identified over 30 themes underlying the strengths and limitations of the development and implementation of the audio tour. Strengths included the involvement of people with lived experience and the use of portable electronic devices, while limitations consisted of insufficient advertising and time constraints.

The conclusions drawn from the interviews highlight the value of the arts in raising awareness about mental health and can be used to help guide the successful implementation of future arts-based mental health awareness projects.

“Mental health stigma is still a substantial barrier to recovery for people who struggle with mental illness. This study highlights some of the obstacles faced when creating and implementing a large-scale, arts-based mental health awareness project. Lessons gained from co-producing such a large-scale project will ensure future art-health collaborations are even more successful”

Professor Helen Fisher - Professor of Developmental Psychopathology at King's IoPPN

The first National Gallery mental health-awareness audio tour was launched on World Mental Health Day on 10 October 2019. Over 2,500 people took the tour during the first six months with the tour being accessed by users in UK, Canada, Denmark, France, Portugal, Ireland, Italy, and the Netherlands. The tour was found to increase positive attitudes towards those with mental health issues among visitors, indicating the feasibility of arts-based interventions in major venues to reduce stigma.

The audio tour, which was available through a smartphone app created by Antenna International, aimed to improve understanding of mental health among visitors to the Gallery, providing an opportunity to see its art collection in a unique way. The content of the tour was created through workshops with 16–25-year-olds, supported by the McPin Foundation and the Gallery’s Young Producers programme.

Developers of the tour shared their experiences and views on taking part in this arts and health collaboration, while also highlighting challenges related to time and resources which influenced youth participation. Young people felt their involvement in the development of the tour had a positive impact on themselves as the safe and collaborative development processes enabled them to engage with the arts and increased their self-esteem.

“Being involved in the project helped to boost my self-esteem and I definitely felt a sense of achievement…it felt quite cathartic having the opportunity to talk openly about my experiences of mental health difficulties.” - young person with lived experience

The findings highlight how future mental health awareness arts-based projects can be successfully implemented by collaborating with people with experience of mental health issues, and ensuring greater resources, time, and understanding of the venue.

This project was possible thanks to funding from the UKRI Medical Research Council, the British Academy, and the ESRC Centre for Society and Mental Health, a collaboration between the IoPPN and the Faculty of Social Science and Public Policy at King’s College London.


A myth-busting mental health tour of the National Gallery in London: facilitators and challenges to its development and evaluation (DOI10.1080/17533015.2022.2056212) (Simon Riches, Ruxandra Vasile, Natalie Steer, Anna Murray, Amber Goneni, Aleksandra Orehova, Rachel Temple, Rose Thompson, Fiona Houston & Helen L. Fisher) was published in Arts and Health.

For more information, please contact Patrick O'Brien (Senior Media Officer).

In this story

Helen Fisher

Professor of Developmental Psychopathology