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Doctors in Belgium prescribe museum visits to manage stress

Access to museums and art galleries are being prescribed in one European nation to combat increased mental stresses caused by the pandemic.

Whether or not your pandemic-related stress has dissipated during this ‘summer of freedom’, it’s impossible to forget the feelings of impending doom that periodically emerged as we journeyed through the last two years.

In a study of over 3,000 people in the UK, at least 64 percent had symptoms of depression and 57 percent reported feelings of anxiousness as a result of the pandemic.

Regardless of the reasons, such as worries about health, job security, finances, or general apprehensiveness about returning to the social world after a year of being locked away, most of us have felt it somehow.

Healthcare advice for how to manage these emotions is varied, but one European country has come up with a less-than conventional prescription for its citizens: trips to the museum.

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At Belgium’s Brugmann hospital, in-patients being treated for stress will now be granted free entry to five public art sites, which include both modern art and fashion museums.

The initiative will be trialled for three months, followed by a medical study to be published next year. Should the pilot be successful in alleviating patient’s psychiatric ailments, the initiative will be extended.

The idea for the scheme came about after Delphine Houba, Brussel’s city councillor for culture and tourism, learned of a similar scheme in Quebec, Canada.

In Quebec, doctors have prescribed up to fifty museum visits a year to patients since as early as 2018. Patients suffering from varied conditions such as eating disorders, mental illness, breast cancer, and dementia have all benefitted from the program.

In light of Canada’s success, Brussel’s city councillor told a local Belgian newspaper, ‘it has been shown that art can be beneficial for health, both mental and physical.’ She also expressed her hope that more museums will open their doors for patients once the results of the trial are published.

Credit: Unsplash

On the other side of the world in Japan, the Mori Art Museum echoed this statement. It stated that despite our ‘different interests, know-how and experiences’ visiting museums provides us with an opportunity ‘to share these while we come to understand’ the world, each other, and ourselves.

In 2017 in the UK, all parties within Parliament advocated for art as a form of medicine for patients, recommending that NHS doctors ‘should be educated on the evidence of its benefits.’ The NHS has been trialling art visits to ease the experiences of patients with dementia.

With so much time to look inward over the last year (a little too much sometimes, I might add), being immersed in the creative realm can help raise everyone’s spirits by helping us gain a fresh perspective on things.

Lucky for London-based readers, the capital already boasts a long list of free-to-visit museums, so you can trial this yourself.

After all, if governments, healthcare systems, and art establishments around the world are agreeing on this one thing, it has got to be true. On that note, there’s potential we’ll see more programs like this coming soon.