Health & Fitness

Paintings, murals aid patient healing

mural-gh

A ward at St Mary’s Mission Hospital in Lang’ata, Nairobi. Artistic forms have a therapeutic value. FILE PHOTO | NMG

franknjenga_img

Summary

  • In 1946, the world Health Organisation held that health is more than the absence of disease.
  • Man is more than the simple wellness of the body.
  • The environment that he lives in, and recovers from disease is also important, and hence what you now call a new trend in hospital design to incorporate paintings and murals.

“I have noticed that many hospitals are adopting artworks and murals on their walls, does this have anything to do with mental wellbeing of patients?”

You have asked a question that could lead us in multiple directions but we will try to resist that temptation. The question has in different forms fascinated thinkers in many different fields of study over the centuries.

Students of human evolution are for example fascinated by the early art forms that exist. Some hold that art forms existed and can be found more than 100,000 years ago in caves in Europe. More, however, believe that art is a more recent human activity and date it as recent as 30,000 years ago. This is an important date for human evolution for a number of reasons. One of them is that man started to live long enough for three generations to be alive at the same time. Prior to that time, few if any men lived beyond 30 years most being killed prior to that age by either disease, wild animals, wars, or in the case of women, childbirth. Life was as fast as it was furious.

As grand parents came to the scene, they did a number of things. Not only did they pass on greater skills of child care, they knew the best hunting routes, best water sources and crucially, which enemies were to be avoided and how.

Without the pressure to go out hunting or gathering, grandparents were able to stay at home and look after the grandchildren, releasing the new parents to do some creative things in their spare time. Music, art and other creative activities saw a steady increase in the following millennia. Art therefore is a ‘recent’ invention unrelated to the pressure of the survival of the species.

That, however, is not your question. You would like to know why art forms are finding a place in medical institutions and more importantly if the art forms have a healing ‘purpose’ from a scientific perspective. The answer to that question is surprisingly easy. Yes, artistic expression is therapeutic in all its forms.

A number of examples will suffice. Music played to cancer patients has been shown to reduce anxiety and also to cut the dosage of pain medicine required for comfort. Music played to patients with acute myocardial infarction (heart attack) has been shown to reduce anxiety and heart rate. In the field of mental health, creative writing and journaling about traumatic events has been shown to be of value in recovery. Drawing and painting has also been used extensively in the treatment of depression, and anxiety and has also been used for people with heart disease who can for example be asked to ‘draw their heart disease’ to see the extent of their understanding of the pathology.

Uknown too many people, is the fact that in psychiatric hospitals, much time is spent exploring thoughts and feelings through the medium of the arts, including music, painting and dancing. So, not only are the arts an important part of the healing process, the environment of healing is also important. This then brings us to the colour schemes in hospital designs which is what your question is really about. Just to make your question easier to digest, let us look at the extremes. The different functional rooms in the hospital are best give different colour schemes. Intensive care units for example are characterised by simple light colours to reduce the confusion that recovering patients might be experiencing during the recovery process. Units where patient’s recovery from alcoholic delirium tremens (confusion) must also be plain because of the illusions/hallucinations in these conditions that could in cause greater confusion in the patients.

At the other extreme of course one finds places such as childrens’ wards and outpatients departments where brighter colours and murals are more appropriate.

In his book, The Madness of Adam and Eve, How Schizophrenia Shaped Humanity (2001) my old teacher Prof David Horrobin traces the origins of mankind and argues that human beings developed art music, religion as well as criminal behaviour during their evolution, at the same time that mental disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar mood disorder evolved. The gene for creativity and insanity are, in this regard, closely related to the survival of the human race!

In 1946, the world Health Organisation held that health is more than the absence of disease. Man is more than the simple wellness of the body. The environment that he lives in, and recovers from disease is also important, and hence what you now call a new trend in hospital design to incorporate paintings and murals.