Mind, Science, Wellness, Now + Beyond

How drawing and art can help fight depression and heal us

Sometimes making things helps you make it through.

Over this past December and January, I fell into the darkness that is depression, accompanied by my anxiety. I took up drawing alongside my writing, which did wonders for my mental health.

I was able to express myself through the stringing together of words and through the sketches produced by my pencil.

There are considerable amounts of scientific research, which show that creating art in its multiple forms is not only good for your mental health, but for your physical health as well, according to Maria Cohut from Medical News Today.

Writing, for instance, aids in helping people cope with trauma. It can be painful to explore and accept negative feelings from negative experiences; however, long-term effects from this way of coping are positive toward not only mental health but physical health as well.

Improvement of mental well-being can be explained by the feeling of transforming something negative into something positive through the productive process of establishing, meaning through art. Cohut discussed, for instance, how writing assisted male survivors of childhood sexual abuse as they made sense of their trauma.

There are also good feelings that result from creating art, as the happy feeling-inducing chemical dopamine is released from it. Art is both a relaxing hobby and an activity that enables you to explore and understand your emotions and analyze yourself and something that allows you to feel proud of what you create, thus contributing positively to your self-esteem. It is an efficient, mentally healing way of understanding yourself, unbottling your emotions.

Business Insider mentions a study that supports the concept that creating art reduces levels of the stress-associated hormone cortisol. Participants in the study were instructed to create art for 45 minutes, having their cortisol levels measured and compared before and after the art-creating session. The average cortisol levels was approximately 18 ng/mL before the participants made art and the ending levels after they had created art was 15 ng/mL.

They also mentioned another study that shows that art can serve as a distraction from sadness; however, the study holds that the art is most effective if what is expressed in it is unrelated to the source of sadness.

Cohut mentions a randomized trial that showed how art could be beneficial specifically to physical health, where 37 HIV-infected patients were the participants of the experiment. The participants were randomly assigned to write about either emotional or control topics for 30 minutes daily, for 4 days. The participants who expressed emotionally-related topics showed improvement in their immune systems. This improvement was determined by the increase of CD4+ lymphocytes which are essential to the immune system’s functioning.

Especially given the scientifically found benefits, I highly recommend expressing yourself through art whether or not you identify with struggling with mental health issues. At the end of the day, we are all human and we experience pain.

In many cases, we might as well utilize that pain and turn it into something beautiful that helps us heal and be happy.