Sweden has recently launched a pilot project to help patients suffering from chronic depression; stress; anxiety; or back, shoulder and neck pain by prescribing cultural activities. Karin Berg, project manager at Capio clinic in Helsingborg, which hosts the trials, explains.
What kinds of cultural activities do you suggest?
“Visiting a museum, getting a tour around a theater, singing in a choir, forming a reading group in a library, visiting an art center where patients can participate in ceramics or painting or making music.”
How do these activities help?
“At our first meeting, patients were feeling tense and nervous, but at the end they were completely different. They seemed relaxed and positive, and we had quite a few laughs. That is such a difference. Some are so tired of sitting alone at home and doing nothing, it’s as if they can’t face it anymore. They don’t have any motivation.”
Why not just let them hang out together then?
“If you’re a carpenter with chronic back pain, you may never be a carpenter again, and you may feel terribly sad the whole day. But if you get new influences, you may become open-minded so it becomes easier to see yourself more objectively and to think about other opportunities in life. Cultural activities are known to stimulate the brain and improve mental health. Such stimulation from outside can stop the process of only looking at all the negative things in your life. It’s not an alternative to traditional therapy, but an addition.”
Does this add costs to the health-care system?
“No, this program will save money.”
“Oh yes, definitely. These patients are not cheap. They cost society loads of money. They see the doctor all the time. Some in our group are not trusted to have medicine at home, so they go out every day to get their medication, which puts quite some pressure on medical staff. But if you go out and about, you can get the attention you need elsewhere, relieving medical personnel somewhat. If we can get some of these patients out in society and even back to work, that’s a big savings.”