The short answer is yes – art educators improve mental health.
They’re not therapists though. Well, not in the traditional sense, at least. But when their teachings borrow from the trauma-informed and social-emotional learning contexts, they can do wonders for students who are struggling with mental health issues.
Especially given the trauma experienced over this past year and a half of an unrelenting pandemic.
The Importance of Trauma-Informed Teaching
Trauma-informed teaching works from the definition of trauma as ‘very strong emotional impact.’ And there’s no arguing that the effects of the pandemic continue to push many young people’s mental health to the edge.
Lockdowns, fear and anxiety, and the social isolation of being away from school and friends unleashed a flood of negative emotions. And these won’t go away when the pandemic subsides. The emotional impact it’s left could become a barrier to their learning if it’s not addressed now.
The emotions will continue to play out – systematically blocking the student’s ability to absorb the lessons. They will continue to struggle with depression, anxiety, fear, and hopelessness. Yet, they’re expected to sit and listen to the material in the midst of this.
It’s different at institutions such as arts academy high schools. Arts educators there focus on ways to reduce trauma while providing emotional-management skills to students.
Promoting Student Wellness Through Social-Emotional Learning (SEL)
In a regular teaching setting, a good teacher remains vigilant about watching for changes in students. But during the darker days of the pandemic and Zoom, this was extremely difficult. Especially when students wouldn’t turn on their cameras.
Now that they’re largely back in the classroom, however, arts educators are employing SEL to help their students adjust to this new normal. To put it in a nutshell, SEL is the process through which students (and all of us, really) acquire certain skills and attitudes that lead to a healthy identity. These skills include the ability to empathize, manage emotions, achieve goals, and establish and maintain supportive relationships.
During the past year, many young people were not able to deploy these skills. As such, they have been delayed. And this can lead to mental health difficulties.
So arts educators are stepping up and teaching kids techniques in self-calming, focusing, mindfulness, and stress reduction through creating art. This emotional regulation and ability to find moments of calmness is crucial to making students more open to learning.
Engaging in mindful moments has been shown to be an effective stress reducer. As such, arts academy middle schools and high schools have routinely incorporated SEL for many years now.
How Art Educators Improve Mental Health
If you think about it, art teachers are a secret weapon of sorts in battling mental health issues in kids as they attempt re-entry into a world that is far from normal. Not only do most of them work with the same kids for multiple years to build strong relationships, but they foster a safe place for kids to express themselves.
Some students are re-entering the world after a long spell of social isolation and they aren’t comfortable with it. They may not even understand why. The arts give them the means to express their inner turmoil and slow their minds.
It’s a fully immersive experience. Students at an arts academy school do more than make art. They study an artistic work and are encouraged by art teachers to learn the backstory. How was that painting made? What did it take to create that dance? How much was involved in producing that piece of music?
This sort of analysis allows them to see the process involved in creating art. They recognize that art requires problem-solving skills, taking different perspectives, and staying with it. When students learn to appreciate and create art, they develop empathy, self-awareness, and skills for self-management. Not only does this foster mental wellness, but it’s also the recipe for academic success.
Furthermore, because arts-integrated curriculum schools teach academics such as history, science, and math through art, it enables students who learn differently to feel more accomplished throughout the school day. And this is a win for everyone.
Want to Unleash the Superpowers of Art on Your Child?
If your creative child is struggling with his her mental health in these odd times, it may be time for a new approach to school. An arts academy middle school or high school could positively change their trajectory.
So contact us to take a tour of our school. You’ll see how art educators improve mental health by inspiring students and giving them unique ways to share themselves with the world.
And prepare for all sorts of new possibilities!