My personal experience in improving mental health with art projects has mainly been in relation to music making and theatre. These experiences go back to late 1990’s and to Finnish prison life. As a vice-governor I was in charge of organizing a theatre video project with professional actors, an English prison theatre director (Allen Owens), Finnish juvenile prison inmates and foreign adult prisoners. It was a very promising experience, which showed, how arts can make a real difference in prison life – and in prisoners’ mental health. A decade later I was responsible for two large scale music theatre projects with professional actresses and director, professional (rock) musicians, young mental health service users making music and adult service users acting and even writing jointly the theatre play.

Why are arts important in improving mental health? In the case of theatre, the answer is obvious. So much of our everyday and family life has to do with fixed role playing, which also has deteriorated many persons’ and family members’ mental health. In every traumatized family there is room for at least for one person “acting crazy”. So, with theatre a person and a group of theatre makers, can take a distance from those fixed roles. The more important and healthier the outcomes, nearer the subject matter is to the lives of the persons involved. In that sense, theatre is a near relative to research by experience! Besides, making a meaningful project together is socially valuable for the person and the group in itself. It often gives also a lots of fun, as well!

These experiences have shown that is not reasonable at all to restrict to “the therapeutical field of work” so that, the theatre or other art project makers do things just for themselves. Instead, the level of empowerment and recovery deepens significantly, when these art projects are held and put to their proper societal places. in public theatres with paying audience; in public art galleries; music clubs; ecc.

Read and learn more:

Fancourt, D. & Finn, S. 2019. What is the evidence on the role of the arts in improving health and well-being? A scoping review. Copenhagen: WHO Regional Office for Europe (Health Evidence Network (HEN) synthesis report 67).


I am a professional actor, a director and a drama teacher. For more than a decade I have made art and communal theatre especially with people recovering from mental illness in Lahti (Social Psychiatric Foundation Mente) and in Helsinki (Taiteen Sulattamo). Every project we have implemented has as its own goal to produce a public performance.

The beginning of the process starts with workshops built by art-based methods. Persons recovering from mental health problems write out or act their own life experiences under a kind of headlines, e.g. side-effects, scuttles, history of madness etc.

Theatre is a collective art form. The whole project will be made together, equally. It gives possibilities to handle emotions confidentially and in safe ways.

At first there is a reason for coming out. Literally you don’t stay home with your thoughts. You can share them with other equals by writing and by performing. You’ll notice you are not alone and then you’ll start to take care of others. You are responsible of yourself and the artistic project.

You’ll exceed yourself and your self-confidence will increase. Your own experiences are valuable. Your voice will be heard.

Finally, sharing your stories in front of the audience is an empowering experience. Because after the thoughts, the emotions and the claims have been created together, it is easy to engage with them. Acting has been written into the performers body. For the audience it will give different point of views to handle mental health, and to the prejudices against persons suffering from mental health problems. Here lies the meaningfulness of theatre and its magic!

Taiteen Sulattamo organises a number of different art workshops focusing on the processes of performing arts. From themes that occur in workshops we choose a topic that our participants want to process. We involve the participants in every part of the process. Within the chosen theme we then create a professionally produced art project, a play for example. The process increases day-to-day management skills and the quality of life of the participants by engagement, involvement and expression.

Commitment towards a common goal – in this case an art project – and working as equals with professional artists has an invaluable impact on individuals in recovery.

We also engage in development projects which create innovations using arts methods in well-being and mental healthcare. These projects are funded by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. We offer our services to both individuals in recovery and health care personnel.


Theatre play – The Welfare Desk: Some Comical and Touching Scenes by Taiteen Sulattamo (2016).

What did you learn about community orientation?

How can you apply your learning in your working and daily lives?

Which kinds of intracommunal and intercommunal networks are you engaged in? What kinds of tools and methods do you have for working together? What should still be acquired?