“Art by prescription”: when depression and anxiety are cured at the museum

Under the high roof of a former pharmacy school in Montpellier (southern France), which has been converted into a center for contemporary art, Andre, Kevin and Amber work on clay under the eye of an artist watching it. Their psychiatrist indicated that they were participating in an experimental program of “art by prescription”.

Of different ages and life cycles, but with common episodes of depression or anxiety, these three patients, followed by the Department of Psychiatric and Post-Emergency (Dupup) at Montpellier University Hospital, were not yet particularly interested in art. However, they respected this special treatment to the letter for a few weeks.

For Mo.Co, the city’s center for contemporary art, and the University Hospital’s psychiatry department, a “conviction” is shared: there is “an urgent need to raise public awareness of the benefits of artistic commitment to mental health,” insists Professor Philippe Cortet of the University Hospital Center (CHU) in Montpellier.

This unprecedented project in France, inspired by experiments carried out in Belgium, Canada or the United Kingdom, has one ambition, “to get patients out of the hospital by prescribing art to them,” adds the prof.

“It’s liberating, it’s tremendously liberating,” admits with a smile Amber Castells, a 17-year-old high school student pouring paraffin into a clay mold: “When I’m here, it’s like everything can make me go bad »

Kevin Genesty, 23, saw his “natural anxiety subside.” “You can go see psychologists, but the best thing is to do things with my own hands, to externalize what I have,” he says, delighted to meet “people with the same kind of problems” and now ready “to go to the museum more often.

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Hand work against depression and anxiety. Sylvain Thomas/AFP

Break the isolation

“It’s a workshop on soft, malleable materials, which deform and change from a solid to a liquid state on contact with the hand. This allows you to immerse yourself in the experience,” explains visual artist Susie Leliver while watching.

For their part, dressed in a white apron to avoid getting dirty, Andre Brossos, 60, is pleased this time to “improve” the way he uses his hands, “having started in the year of physical expression under the auspices of dancer Ann Lopez.

He recalls that “choreography gave me the art of blending into a group, which was not easy at first, as well as more confidence in my way of expressing myself, of moving myself.”

« Les troubles de santé mentale, as me la dépression, engendrent of l’isolement social et a manque d’estim de soi, que le fait d’être in groupe permet de rompre », souligne Philippe Courtet, lui-meme passionné d’art contemporary.

“Here, it is not the artists who go to the patients, but the patients who go to the museum and meet the artists and enter their world,” confirms Elodie Michel, another expert in psychiatry from CHU.

In 2022, this program involved three groups of about ten patients. On the program: one month art trips, visits to exhibitions and workshops for artistic practice.

At each session, they were accompanied by a fine arts student and a psychiatry trainee, in particular responsible for the scientific evaluation of the project.

Art by prescription is funded completely free of charge for participants by the Ministry of Commerce, the Regional Health Agency, the Regional Directorate for Cultural Affairs (DRAC) as well as the city of Montpellier and the metropolitan area within its walls – the oldest still operating medical school in the world.

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“We hope this program will be extended to everyone and compensated through Social Security,” said Mo.Co director Numa Hambursin, stressing that in Canada therapists can prescribe up to 50 museum visits a year for them. The patients.

Philip Cioberski/AFP

Under the high roof of a former pharmacy school in Montpellier (southern France), which has been converted into a center for contemporary art, Andre, Kevin and Amber work on clay under the eye of an artist watching it. Sent by their psychiatrist, they take part in an experimental program of “art by prescription.” Of different ages and life paths, but with commonalities…

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