Five minutes with Dr Kat Taylor – culture for mental wellbeing
Ahead of this November’s festival of ideas, we delve deeper with some of our guest speakers.
What’s your earliest cultural memory?
It’s of being unwell aged about 6, and having to bow out of a performance of Orphan Annie I was in! I was determined that the show must go on, but I passed out on stage – it took fainting to stop me! I didn’t perform again until I was in my thirties but now I love to play music with friends.
How did you arrive at this point – of working to improve the wellbeing of young people through arts and culture?
In lots of converging ways. I wanted to work in healthcare from a young age, and worked in mental health research as a graduate. I began clinical psychology training in 2010, and for my thesis studied the role of creativity in bipolar disorder, because of the known links, and partly due to my own experiences of engaging creatively to manage extremes of mood throughout my 20s.
When I qualified, I took an unexpected role at Arts for Health at Manchester Metropolitan and enjoyed three years with Dementia and Imagination, a large study looking at the impact of artist-led sessions on people living with dementia and those around them. It was this journey and the merging of the two worlds (clinical and academic) which really cemented my interest and understanding of the arts for health. A Churchill Fellowship in 2017 to help improve services in an evidence-based way in the UK helped shape my motivation and ability to develop the current Arts, Culture and Mental Health Programme in GM i-THRIVE.
Why do you believe culture is good for our health?
Many of the outcomes we seek in mental health services have been shown to be improved using cultural or creative options, for example, engagement, attachment and belonging, and self-esteem through skills-development and peer relationships. Young people can also be supported in self-expression and communication when aided by creative options, helping them to make much better sense of their stories and what might help.
With the arts, the possibilities are almost endless!
The science of arts engagement and the range of surprising physiological effects, such as reduced inflammatory responses, is also important as mental and physical health are so intricately linked. With regards to the built environment and public health messages, such contexts can contribute to factors like hopelessness or isolation, and the arts can contribute significantly here too.
How does culture make you feel personally?
I find live music such an incredible and mysterious tonic. For me, there is nothing like music to affect mood, help make contact with feelings, and bond with others.
What’s on your cultural hit-list?
I’ve seen many of my idols perform live, including Bob Dylan and Mavis Staples, Cate le Bon and Television – but I’d love to see Neil Young!
In my perfect future, all schools would have access to Three Minute Heroes. The idea is simple and is coming to Greater Manchester. Three Minute Heroes is a campaign from The Warren Youth Project that supports young people to use creative writing and music to talk openly, confidently and safely about what’s on their mind. Those writings/lyrics are then given to bands and solo artists who put them to music and create powerful songs and music videos that create an authentic voice for young people, and these are then digitally released as a creative resource.
Dr Kat Taylor will be taking part in Young People and mental health: shaping our research on 6 November.
You can find out more about Three Minute Heroes here.