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How theatre can benefit your mental health

Hira Desai

By Hira Desai First Published 20 May 2021, Last Updated 20 May 2021

UK Theatre and the Society of London Theatre (SOLT) – the not-for-profit organisation which runs Official London Theatre –  have today released statistics showing that theatres generate an annual cost saving to the NHS of £102,234,585, by helping benefit the physical and mental health of those in their surrounding communities.

The new stat comes during Creativity and Wellbeing Week and highlights the importance of theatre and the arts in improving physical and mental wellbeing – something that is being increasingly recognised worldwide, including by the World Health Organisation and the UK Department of Health & Social Care.

This is further supported by an ongoing audience survey by The Old Vic, in which 93% of respondents so far have agreed or strongly agreed that theatre benefits their mental health and wellbeing.

Despite theatres being closed during the pandemic, theatre has remained essential in providing online educational resources, interactive family events, digital productions, creative workshops and even programmes to help rehabilitate Covid sufferers – alongside the countless venues offering space, supplies and skilled volunteers to help the NHS.

As lockdown restrictions ease and several theatres begin reopening, evidence of the power of theatre to enrich people’s lives physically and mentally – as well as culturally – will be a vital tool to help secure the UK’s world-leading theatre sector the support it needs to survive.

UK Theatre and SOLT calculated the figure using a 2015 report by DCMS and Simetrica, which measures the health benefits enjoyed by people attending a cultural or sporting activity. The report found that the NHS saves a yearly total of £11.91 for every person partaking in such an activity, from a reduction in GP visits and use of psychotherapy services.

This data was combined with UK Theatre and SOLT’s 2018 audience attendance figures (collected from nearly 300 venues nationwide), which show that over 34m people attended the theatre that year. Taking into account repeat attendance and attendance of other cultural or sporting events – and applying the DCMS and Simetrica benchmarking – the figure of £102,234,585 was reached.

Victoria Hume, Executive Director of the Culture, Health & Wellbeing Alliance, said:

‘We know from a significant and growing body of international research that the arts, creativity and culture are critically important to sustaining our health, to tackling major social problems like loneliness and isolation, and to building our communities.

‘This startling statistic is yet another important piece in the puzzle, and drives home the message that we cannot dismiss the arts and culture as nice-to-haves. We know that our resilience is dramatically impacted by our ability to access our creativity and build the culture that surrounds us. This has kept many of us going through lockdown, although research also shows inequalities in cultural participation have been reinforced by covid.

‘It will be essential to our safe recovery as a country that we invest to ensure greater equity and support the kind of forward-looking, partnership-based work this report describes.’

We reached out to our theatre fans to find out how theatre benefits their mental health and received an array of responses ranging from it helping to build confidence to boosting happiness and motivation.

Theatre provides an outlet to relax and manage anxiety with one theatregoer saying “theatre allows me the space to escape and gives my brain a musical reset.” Others have stressed the importance of live theatre explaining that “without theatre life would be hard.”

During the pandemic, one of the things people missed the most is the ability to connect with others and share experiences. Whether you’re trips to the theatre are for date nights, a way to escape the humdrum of life or just something exciting to look forward to doing with your family and friends, nothing compares to the communal experience of enjoying a show with a room full of people. The pandemic has certainly proved that.

This week marks the start of theatres #BackOnStage and we’re thrilled to welcome you all back! Check out our roundup of all the amazing shows you can see in London this year and treat yourself to some theatre magic. Don’t forget to share your experiences with us using #BackOnStage and if you’d like to be in with a chance to win a super stagey prize, click here to find out how you can enter our competition.

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