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Doctors are now prescribing museum visits to improve people's mental health

Research claims museum visits can help people cope better with stress, anxiety and depression.

Doctors are now prescribing museum visits to improve people's mental health
Cover Image Source: Getty Images | Photo by Carl Court

If you enjoy spending time wandering around and looking at art in a museum, this may come across as no surprise. Research claims that there are mental health benefits to visiting a museum, including helping a person cope with stress, anxiety and even depression. Spending just 30 minutes in a museum could reduce your stress hormones. "We're seeing that going to an art museum is really effective at reducing your stress," postdoctoral fellow Katherine Cotter, who published her results in The Journal of Positive Psychology, told Whyy. "If we think about the stress hormone cortisol, there's been a few studies examining if you just go for half an hour to an art museum and measure people's cortisol levels before they go in, after half an hour it shows the kind of recovery time [normally] equivalent to a few hours."


There's quite a difference in viewing art in a museum when compared to other spaces like in the street, in a classroom or even online. Cotter looked at 100 published reports from various disciplines related to arts and psychology to come to the conclusion that visiting an art museum is good for one's mental health. “When we enter a museum, we're entering it with an intention. We're entering this particular space that has unique art, architecture, and has unique things that we're going to be seeing whether it's an art museum or another form of museum or cultural institution," she said. "We engage different mindsets and different cognitive processes. Once we get into the meat and potatoes of the museum visit, we see ourselves more concerned communally, thinking about how things are interrelated in the world more broadly."

Now doctors in Brussels can actually prescribe museum visits for those looking to improve their mental well-being. After the pandemic, the capital of Belgium is seeing the reopening of many of its museums and the importance of culture is being used to help people cope during mental health struggles. "The arts help all human beings forget we are mortal beings," Vincent Lustygier, a psychiatrist at the Brugmann University Hospital, told Politico's Ana Fota. "During the pandemic, death became something that was waiting outside your door. We saw to what extent mental illness became prevalent afterwards."


According to My Modern Met, Montreal was the first city in the world to prescribe museum visits as part of treatment.  "By offering free admission to a safe, welcoming place, a relaxing, revitalizing experience, a moment of respite, and an opportunity to strengthen ties with loved ones, MMFA-MFdC Museum Prescriptions contribute to the patient’s well-being and recovery," the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts website explains. The projects also offer help to those on the autism spectrum, those with eating disorders, as well as people with epilepsy, cancer, and Alzheimer's. Another reason why museum visits could help one's mental state could also include the satisfaction of connecting with creators, thinkers and observers, and listening or looking at their perspective on life in a deeper more meaningful way. After all, being human is a universal experience and a form of art in itself. 


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