Number 35 in our countdown of '70 Ways Art Improves Our Health' highlights the role of performing arts in young people’s emotional health and development…

In the UK today, one in ten young people has some form of mental health problem. The problems go beyond what is often dismissed as ‘teenage angst’ and most commonly include anxiety, depression, self-harm and eating disorders.

Modern life, driven by social media and constant smartphone connection puts enormous pressure on young people at a time of life when they are at their most vulnerable.

Performing arts like dancing and singing have obvious benefits to physical health. But, while participation in visual arts and music have strong evidence demonstrating their positive impacts on levels of stress, anxiety and depression, research into the effect of performing arts on mental wellbeing is still in its early stages.

Three quarters of all mental health problems start by the age of 18 and can have a lasting impact on people’s lives.

A 2008 review of existing evidence on the effects of performing arts in young people (11-18 years) found that results too diverse to summarise. However, a number of key areas were identified as having positive outcomes, including: peer interaction, social skills, sexual health, and drug use.

Beyond the studies, one of the most obvious benefits of performing arts is self-confidence and self-esteem. Participating in performing arts means learning how to present ourselves to an audience and developing the ability to speak in a mature way. They also require communication and cooperation with both our elders and our peers. In this way, performing arts can be key to overcoming our social anxieties.

As with all arts, performing arts allow for profound self-expression. Whether we express ourselves through our voice, music or movement doesn’t really matter, the act of doing so helps us to connect and make sense of our emotions.

In addition to promoting communication and teamwork, performing arts also help us develop empathy and compassion for others. The creativity involved in performing arts extends to emotional creativity, using our imagination to explore other roles in society and other people’s perspectives, and can open young people up to viewing the world in new ways.

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