Why healthcare providers are prescribing museum visits
Publication: Local Love
Published: Tuesday, April 2, 2019
Author: Amy Valm
Breathe deep, stand back and take in the view of a vibrant painting, each brush stroke thoughtfully placed. Look up at an awe-inspiring whale skeleton, suspended from the ceiling and filling up an entire room. Brush your hand across a soft and satisfyingly textured fabric, created by a master weaver.
Museums and art galleries are great places to admire beautiful, interesting and historic things, but research suggests they can also help people experiencing depression, chronic pain, anxiety and stress to reduce their symptoms, as part of a holistic treatment plan.
People who have been diagnosed with these conditions can benefit from therapies and medications, but healthcare providers are supplementing these conventional approaches by recommending social activities that involve getting out into the community, connecting with others, and engaging in light physical exercise. These activities can lead to an increase in serotonin (the “happy chemical”), which promotes feelings of well-being. After successful trials in the UK and Montreal, more doctors and social workers are adding visits to museums and art galleries to their patients’ prescriptions.
To get a sense of how impactful social visits can be, consider depression. “It’s an illness that makes people see the world as a dark place, robbing them of their motivation,” says Dr. Mark Linder, a general practitioner at Ellis Park Medical in Toronto. “If you have more community and more engagement around you, you do better.”
In December 2018, Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum announced a year-long pilot project that will enable patients and their loved ones to visit for free — if a healthcare provider, community professional or social worker refers them. Noting that financial struggles can be a trigger for mental health, Linder says the notion of a freebie can in itself boost morale. It sends the message: “‘Hey, your society cares about you and wants you to feel better, so here’s a free ticket.”
While this particular project is currently restricted to the ROM, public library users can also access free passes to a range of cultural institutions across the GTA. So if you feel like a social visit would do you good, here are some museums and galleries worth the visit—no prescription required.