Dance and Mental Health
'Not only can one reap the well-known physical benefits from dancing, but also an array of mental benefits'
Grace Castle | 3 December 2017

With 1 in 10 young people in the UK affected by some form of mental illness each year, and 75% of mental illnesses becoming prominent before the person’s 18th birthday, why not prevent its onset in all ways possible?

Not only can one reap the well-known physical benefits from dancing, but also an array of mental benefits. Many people with mental illnesses struggle with expressing themselves, their body image, social interaction, and optimism for life in general. Dance is a proven way to help not only those struggling with these issues in releasing suppressed emotions, but everyone. It gives a sense of relief since there is no longer an underlying tension fuelled by a mix of emotions, freeing them from the restraints of mental illness and providing an escape.

The world of dance is a community; friendly and fun. Sarah Cook, an occupational therapist at the Centre for Health and Social Care Research, explains the comfort that this begins to bring to those who “tend not to express themselves due to a fear that what they do or say might be misunderstood” is unquestionable. Having had a personal experience of mental health problems, Cook has expressed how she quite literally danced her negative emotions out of her. A shared interest, in this case dance, can aid social interaction along with providing the opportunity to build new friendships. Expression through dance is like a different language; everyone interprets it differently so judgement is not as rife as some perceive it to be.

The Alchemy Project was set up alongside the NHS in 2015. It gave young adults, accessing mental help early, the chance to spend four weeks training in contemporary dance having had no previous experience. The five-days-a-week schedule gave the participants a reason to want to get up in the morning, showing an improvement in energy and vitality levels. Mental health can be measured on the Warwick Edinburgh scale; so when at the end of the experiment the participants were measured against this scale, once again the results were shown to have increased by 7.9 points. This marked increase against the scale proves the significant amount that dance can help those struggling with mental health.

Reach4Dance is an initiative comprised of two functions that aid those struggling. One is providing workshops that target patients with long-term mental health problems. The patients are encouraged to participate in dancing, creating costumes, and planning their own performances. Similar workshops have also been brought to local hospitals, disabled units, and nursing homes. The other section of the project aims to bring the joy of dance to both patients and their families, in particular because of the possible detrimental effects that mental illness can have on a family.  Modern and more classical dance pieces are performed by pre-professional dance students, such as those at Arts Educational School and Elmhurst Ballet School.

Dancing is a natural form of healthcare. While it cannot necessarily replace medication and visits to a doctor, it undeniably provides a haven to those trapped within themselves.


Original Image by Grace Castle

James Routledge 2016