Psychological Benefits of Group Work
There has been much research done into the many benefits of creative, group activity to increase wellness amongst psychiatric inpatients and those with specific needs. As illustrated in the British Medical Association's 2011 paper, The psychological and social needs of patients, creating a more therapeutic environment for inpatients extends beyond the elimination of boredom and that arts programmes have been shown to have hugely positive effects on patients. Such as:
• inducing positive physiological and psychological changes in clinical outcomes
• reducing drug consumption
• shortening length of hospital stay
• promoting better doctor-patient relationships
• improving mental healthcare
These results cannot be ignored and are some of the reasons the creative group work our volunteer teams engage in with service users is so crucial.
However, there has also been a recent emphasis by mental health professionals on how beneficial group activities are for the wellbeing of not just those with mental health concerns or disabilities, but for everyone.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) asserts, 'mental health is more than just the absence of mental illness' and we, at SLV.Global, could not agree more. Our goal is to help improve the overall mental health of each individual we work with whether they are adults suffering from mental health concerns, children residing outside of the family home, differently abled individuals or those wanting to improve their English. These are four very distinct client groups, but each can benefit from working cohesively as a group to improve their overall mental wellbeing.
In the paper Restoring the Balance by Volunteer England it is noted that 'regular participation in creative activities has benefited people physically, mentally, emotionally and socially, whether that be from access to the arts as a result of illness, as part of a quest for a better work / life balance, seeking to deal with stressful situations, or, in some cases, simply having a desire to be alive in more than just the physical sense.' No matter your background, social status or ability, participating in creative group work has has been proven to have huge benefits to mental health.
While creative activities are excellent to promote self expression and individualism, service users are often in need of physical stimulation too. Getting active can help service users to connect with their bodies and improve gross and fine motor skills. In additional to being crucial to mental health, physical sessions are hugely enjoyable.
According to MentalHealth.org.uk 'Participation in regular physical activity can increase our self-esteem and can reduce stress and anxiety. It also plays a role in preventing the development of mental health problems and in improving the quality of life of people experiencing mental health problems.' We recommend yoga, dancing, sport, anything that gets service users moving! There's no way to avoid the sweat, but the mental and physical benefits for service users, some of whom barely move throughout their day, can't be overstated.
A recent study, conducted by the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries in Western Australia noted, '(p)articipation in organised sport and recreation can be a preventative and curative strategy to promote positive mental health and combat mental illness.' The study found that team activities improve socialisation, inclusion and self-esteem, which can help with mood elevation and overall wellbeing. We, at SLV.Global, strongly believe that prevention is better than cure, especially when working in communities abroad with limited mental health resources, which is why we encourage volunteer teams to work inclusively and with purpose.
When working in developing countries, seemingly simple, daily skills, which we take for granted, can often be overlooked, but should really be prioritised. According to a report conducted by the WHO, the skills often neglected in the developing world, but intrinsically linked to mental health are;
- creative and critical thinking
- effective communication
- interpersonal skills
- coping with emotions and stress
In our experience, we have found that our teaching projects are a great opportunity for volunteers to role model healthy social habits and behaviours with the aim of further developing these skills amongst students to encourage progression both personally and professionally. These sessions can contribute to positive self image, which in turn can decrease feelings of worthlessness, depression and addictive behaviours.
The work our volunteer teams undertake aims to help people feel important and supported, no matter their background or circumstance, which can go a long way to promote positive mental health. According to Psychology Today, '(i)nteracting with others boosts feelings of well-being and decreases feelings of depression. Research has shown that one sure way of improving your mood is to work on building social connections.'
We are hopeful that the daily activities our teams run may go some way to helping people to feel valued and included in greater society. Whether teaching a class of children basic, conversational English or running more advanced cognitive exercises with people with specific needs, these activities are not only a benefit in the immediate, but also to participants' future mental health.
In conclusion, no matter what the focus and structure of the session, the most important thing to remember is that all group work should be geared towards promoting positive mental health and the benefit to the service users should be prioritised above personal enjoyment. Completing a fun, group activity keeps service users goal orientated and engaging meaningfully with peers, which helps to keep their focus fixed firmly on the road ahead and hopefully a happy, fulfilled future.