Professor Louis Appleby

Professor Louis ApplebyProfessor Louis Appleby was Department of Health joint lead on arts in health, National Director for Mental Health in England until 2010, and is now National Clinical Director for Health and Criminal Justice. Here he describes how our approach to health has changed in the last decade, and says that people’s own words can be just as powerful a form of evidence as statistical trials.


“The way we view health as a society has changed over the last five to ten years. People are much more interested in promoting better health as well as treating illness … Although the health service isn’t necessarily the only group responsible for promoting wellbeing, I think that people have expected something of a lead from the Department of Health and the NHS on these broader questions of how we create a healthier society, how we create a healthier community and how families and individuals can be healthier and not just free of illness. I think that the arts are a part of that.”

“…without decent health your prospects for getting a job, holding down a stable income, perhaps even your prospects for decent housing and social networks are reduced. It makes sense to see social inclusion as a ‘healthy initiative’ and the arts I think are also a part of that. A lot of arts activities are group activities and some of them lead directly to employment skills – so there is a strong connection between the arts and social inclusion…”


“The more rigorous that we can be about the benefits of arts participation then the better it will be, because in the end we have to be making arguments which the commissioners of services are impressed by. However, the measurable benefits could come in different forms.

“I think it is much more difficult to do a randomized trial on the arts in the same way that it is, for example, on a new drug treatment. The evidence will always look a little softer I suspect. On the other hand if you have a mass of people saying that the sense of pleasure, the sense of creativity and the sense of emotional identification which comes with arts participation helps maintain their wellbeing or helps their recovery then that is bound to be a powerful influence.

“One of the main drivers of the health service in future is going to be individual experiences so, although we are obviously entering time when money will be a lot tighter and commissioners will need greater persuasion that the benefits are there, I think that the most powerful persuasion that the arts will have will be that strong sense of public and patient support.”

“…when people join a group, perhaps a choir or to dance … they don’t join for health or wellbeing

purposes, they go along to take part in the creative activity but actually, aiding their wellbeing is exactly what they are doing.”

Since 1996 Professor Appleby has been Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Manchester and, since 1991, a consultant psychiatrist in Manchester. His current priorities are psychological therapies, stigma, race equality, suicide prevention, public mental health, inequalities and dementia.

Taken from ‘Restoring the balance’, a Voluntary Arts England publication. Download the full interview with Professor Appleby or the full pdf of ‘Restoring the balance‘.





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