Social Prescribing of Music and Other Cultural Arts for Our Madness


Prescribing the arts for better mental health…




In covering the social psychiatric aspects of our daily news for almost 2 years now, I mainly have perused news from United States sources. They have some international coverage and I am always on the lookout for such news so as not to be parochial. Hence, I was so pleased to find some important musical news out of Great Britain via a missive last Friday from the Stratford Summer Music 23 in Canada, a festival we usually attend from Milwaukee.

Off and on, I have covered some of the reasons why music can be a healing force, but recent news out of Great Britain provides more evidence for it. The source of this news is mainly the research of the psychologist Daisy Fancourt of University College London (UCL). Given the recent long National Health Service wait lists for mental and general health care, there has been a call for novel and innovative solutions. And yet, Fancourt and colleagues actually found neglected resources that were promising, as they led to innovative pilots that are paving the way for social prescribing, allowing GPs to prescribe and refer to community programs related to the arts and culture.

These developments are backed by already existing research evidence, enhanced by using cutting-edge statistical techniques that finds the following:

-Women who listen to music of various genres during the final trimester of pregnancy are less likely to develop postpartum depression in the first 3 months.1

-Singing workshops that have mothers listening to songs with their babies, and creating new songs reflecting aspects of motherhood, can be used to help treat postpartum clinically relevant depression.2

-Older adults in England who regularly participate in arts and cultural activities have a dose-related lowering of the risk for developing depression, supposedly even to the extent that attending once a month halves the depression risk, as well showing higher levels of well-being and cognitive functioning.3

-On the other end of the age spectrum, children who take part in creative activities have a lower risk of developing behavioral problems in early adolescence.4

Already, there is some confirming studies in other countries.

What about the arts seems to improve mental and physical health? For music, the mechanisms seem to be reducing cortisol levels and thereby consequent anxiety, as well as stimulating better problem-oriented and emotion-oriented coping.

Unfortunately, governments in many countries are reducing arts education in schools and financial support of the arts for the public. Economically disadvantaged individuals may have less access other than from iPhones. Moreover, music therapy has been disappearing from psychiatric treatment for decades.

Here we are, though, with what seems like almost too good to be true news: a very cost-effective way to generally improved mental health across the life span, and specifically to help the often difficult to treat postpartum depression, which in turn influences child development. Besides that, music and the other arts can be so enjoyable to attend, too. Our son lovingly teases us about all the “cultural events” we go to, but maybe that has something to do with our happiness and longevity. The primary prevention possibilities seem promising.

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues related to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times.


1. Fancourt D, Perkins R. Could listening to music during pregnancy be protective against postnatal depression and poor wellbeing post birth? Longitudinal associations from a preliminary prospective cohort study. BMJ Open. 2018;8(7):e021251.

2. Fancourt D, Perkins R. Effect of singing interventions on symptoms of postnatal depression; three-arm randomized controlled trial. Br J Psychiatry. 2018;212(2):119-121.

3. Fancourt D, Tymoszuk U. Cultural engagement and incident depression in older adults:; evidence from the English Longitudinal Study of Aging. Br J Psychiatry. 2019;214(4):225-229.

4. Fancourt D, Steptoe A. Effects of creativity on social and behavioral adjustment in 7- to 11-year-old children. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2019;1438(1):30-39.

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