Cultural activities not only help people manage and recover from depression but can also help to prevent it. According to a recent study, Regular visits to the cinema, theatre or to museums could dramatically reduce the chances of becoming depressed in older age.
The study, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, suggests that people who go to watch films, plays or exhibitions every few months, had a 32 per cent lower risk of developing depression, as compared to those who did not indulge in these activities regularly.
“Generally speaking, people know the benefits of eating their five-a-day and of exercise for their physical and mental health, but there is very little awareness that cultural activities also have similar benefits. People engage with culture for the pure enjoyment of doing so, but we need to be raising awareness of their wider benefits too,” said Daisy Fancourt, lead author of the study.
The study looked at data on more than 2,000 people over the age of 50, who took part in the long-running English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA). This provides a rich source of information for researchers like Dr Fancourt and her colleagues, covering the health, social, wellbeing and economic circumstances of older people in England.
The researchers believe the power of these cultural activities lies in the combination of social interaction, creativity, mental stimulation and gentle physical activity they encourage.
Fancourt said: “We were very pleasantly surprised by the results. Notably, we find the same relationship between cultural engagement and depression amongst those of high and low wealth and of different levels of education – the only thing that differs is the frequency of participation.”
“Cultural engagement is what we call a ‘perishable commodity’. For it to have long-term benefits for mental health, we need to engage in activities regularly. This is similar to exercise: going for a run on the first of January won’t still have benefits in October unless we keep going for runs,” Fancourt added.