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Creativity: the unlikely hero in the fight against the coronavirus blues

  • One of Britain’s top psychiatrists believes the impact of Covid-19 may be the biggest danger to people’s mental health since WWII
  • Members of craft group, Gatley KnitWits, explain how their lives have changed since lockdown and how creativity helps their mental health
  • Director of arts for health at Manchester Met, Dr Clive Parkinson says people are turning to creativity to 'lose awareness of the awful things in their lives'

Ten months, four tiers, three lockdowns, two-metre distancing and scores of face masks later, Britain has reluctantly adapted to what experts describe as the new normal, a world totally different from that of just 12 short months ago.

The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted almost every aspect of our lives, with mental health being at the very top of that list. As a leading expert suggests that COVID-19 poses the biggest threat to our mental health since WWII, anxiety, depression and stress are becoming as widespread as the virus itself.

To combat these recent mental health dips, many have found it beneficial to take on new projects during lockdown – with creative activities emerging as one of the most popular choices.

The “new normal”

 

According to a national survey commissioned by Bristol-based mental health charity Many Minds, 47% of those asked said that getting creative has helped boost their mental health over lockdown. For members of a Gatley-based knitting community group, this statistic has proved to be reality. 

The Gatley KnitWits are a group of individuals, bonded by their love of knitting and crochet. Prior to the pandemic, the award-winning group met in person twice monthly to work on charitable projects, while also enjoying the social aspect of the meetings.

But following the announcement of lockdown in March 2020, this was no longer possible.

The group opted to continue meetings online and currently hold them every Saturday from 2pm-4pm on Zoom. It was continuing these creative projects that raised their spirits, even when the pandemic threatened their mental health during these turbulent times.

Speaking to long-time member Nicky Higginbotham, 56, she noticed a recent dip in her mental health.

Although having previously worked in MediaCityUK, lockdown has meant she’s now home-based and is not expected to return to offices until Summer, 2021.

Nicky says: “It’s a difficult time. You’re stuck at home, worrying about your family and friends staying safe, it’s hard. I have noticed this dip which isn’t like me at all. Usually I can bounce back, but I’ve found it harder this time.”

Though her daily routine has been turned on its head, Nicky has praised the healing powers of creativity, acknowledging that knitting has kept her “sane” throughout lockdown.

Some of the creations made by Nicky in lockdown

 

“It has helped me immensely. I think it’s a very rhythmic craft, it just chills you out, calms you down and helps get your head in the right place. I’ve had bits of time where, for whatever reason, I didn’t do as much crafting as I usually would and looking back, I think those are when I’ve noticed my mood dip”, adds Nicky.

This thought is echoed by crochet-keen member Stephanie Bray, 42, who admits the ability to be creative has helped her twice before in her life, once when she was first diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome and again during lockdown.

Steph recalled: “I became ill over 13 years ago when I was finishing my doctorate in Clinical Psychology and was diagnosed a year later. At my worst, I would sleep for 16 hours a day and felt really unwell. One Christmas, my ex-mother-in-law gave me a crochet set and though I had little energy, what I could do was pick up a hook and practice a few rows.

“The year before Covid, I was starting to feel a bit like myself again. I started going out for meals with family and friends, I went to the KnitWits Christmas drinks, I had just started to get my confidence back when suddenly lockdown began. It’s a bit egocentric, but it felt like a pandemic had been sent to keep me in.

“During lockdown, I’ve made crochet rainbows for family and friends that I’ve sent through the post and I’ve also made little hero bears for NHS staff! Crocheting has definitely helped, it’s quite meditative and the ability to take on new projects and make something you're really proud of is amazing."

The hero bears made by Steph, pattern by Yarn it, Darn it

 

Both women have also found that having the group meetings each week has provided structure and much needed emotional support.

The KnitWits aren’t the only ones to recognise the effects of creativity on mental health throughout the pandemic.

Speaking to Director of Arts for Health at Manchester Met, Dr Clive Parkinson, he explains why he believes we are in the midst of a creative revolution and tells of the science behind it.

Wise words from Clive

 

Clive says: “Lockdown has pushed people into a different landscape, where they’re more receptive to things. Creativity has emerged because people are scared, lonely and isolated, as there are large numbers of people who have felt incredibly lost within the system.

“Research shows us that when you’re stressed, you produce Cortisol, which means your stress and anxiety get worse and you have all of this physical and emotional turmoil. But when you’re deeply engaged in one of these creative activities you produce Serotonin, which is like a counter blast to the more negative physiological response. It has that kind of settling quality, so you become more grounded and content.

“As people get deeply involved in a creative project, not only do they lose that awareness of the awful things in their lives, such as the lack of love, relationships, money or jobs, but they can be in a healthier place, at least for a little while”.

  • Many thanks to Nicky Higginbotham, Steph Bray and Dr Clive Parkinson for the images provided.
  • To keep up with the Gatley KnitWits, you can find them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
  • If you’ve noticed a dip in your mental health over lockdown and you’re interested in taking up a creative activity, check out the get creative during covid’ campaign, launched by Manchester Met student and Northern Quota reporter, Andrea Maria Petrie
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