Let's talk about mental health

Published on: 
13 May 2019

I’m Carys Owen, Partnerships Manager for Artis Foundation. Here at Artis, we strongly believe that the arts inspire and motivate children’s creativity, allowing them to find their voice and open up their imagination. As well as giving them a space to explore challenging themes more openly outside of the formal learning environment, the arts help to build young people’s confidence, resilience and self-esteem.

In January 2018, Milton Keynes CCG, Milton Keynes Public Health, Milton Keynes Cultural Education Partnership, and the Arts Council funded Bridge organisation for the South East, Artswork, asked us to devise and deliver a creative project to explore children’s awareness and understanding of mental health.

The resulting project was You, Me, Together, a six-week programme that engaged 150 children and young people in conversations about mental health and wellbeing through performing arts activities. As part of the programme, four schools embarked on their Artsmark journey and 50 children gained their Arts Award Discover qualification.

Being an Artsmark Partner meant that we had a deep understanding of the Artsmark process and how we could best support schools on their journey. It also gave the schools confidence in our approach as a provider.

During the project, Artis Specialist, Martha, used performing arts activities that explored emotions and feelings to discover the language children and young people use to talk about, and understand, mental wellbeing. Martha used facial expressions and body language as a starting point for bigger discussions around what mental health is and used music, drama and movement to think about how we express and understand emotions.

“By using performing arts, we gave the students a whole new language that they could use to communicate…This transformed the way the young people were relating to others and talking about themselves.” 
Martha Shrimpton, Artis Specialist

The children created visual art pieces that collected the words, phrases and thoughts they shared about mental health and wellbeing in the creative sessions.  At the end of each session, children were invited to reflect on what they had learned and combined all of their ideas. The pieces were then displayed at each school to share the children’s journey with the rest of the school community.

On the back of this project, Martha developed a Top Tips resource which includes 10 activities for teachers to use for sessions on mental health or as “check ins” at the start of other lessons to see how their class are, exploring wellbeing within the school day. 

We also produced a film of the children’s understanding of mental health, documenting their journey and the project. The results were fantastic, with the evaluation showing:

  • There was a 10% increase in children reporting that they strongly agreed with the statement ‘In the past month, I have been feeling useful’
  • By the end of the project, no children disagreed with the statement ‘I’ve been feeling good about myself’, versus 6% at the beginning of the project
  • After the project, there was a 19% increase in children who strongly agreed with the statement ‘I can express my thoughts, feelings and emotions thorough art’










Teachers and staff reported the following:

“On the whole, my class are quiet and reluctant to be animated. During this [project], I have seen the children come to life. They have been fully engaged and inspired to be confident in themselves.”
Year 4 Teacher, Caroline Haslett Primary School

“The opportunity for roleplay in groups has helped to improve listening and co-operation skills.”
Kelly Smith Year 5 Teacher, Falconhurst Primary School

This project not only helped schools engage with what mental health and wellbeing is and why it’s so important to talk about it, but it also gave us a great insight into how young people perceive it and express it.”
Muriel Scott, Director of Public Health at MK Council

In March 2019, we were so proud that You, Me, Together won the National Creative Learning Award for Performing Arts and Music project!

We’ve now developed Artis Bounce, a creative mental health and wellbeing programme that is available to all schools as a short or long-term arts project. The programme is a great opportunity for schools on their Artsmark journey to explore wellbeing through performing arts activities, and ensure children experience the arts in a positive and inclusive way.

Click here to get involved in one of our projects or to find out more 



Carys Owen

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Cultural education gives children and young people the opportunity to develop their creativity, both individually and collectively, and that's why our goal is for every child and young person to have the opportunity to experience the richness of the arts.

Darren Henley
Chief Executive
Arts Council England

It's vital that children have the opportunity to learn and enjoy arts and culture from an early age. It develops their creativity, inspires future careers and enriches their childhood.

Artsmark Award does brilliant work in schools and education to ensure young people access a broad and balanced curriculum that includes high-quality arts and culture.

Michael Ellis MP
Minister for Arts, Heritage and Tourism
Department of Culture, Media and Sport