The Culture Cure
July 31, 2019 7:42 AM   Subscribe

This is really cool and I'm super super happy it's working for the people in the article! It sounds great!

I'm also always really conflicted about articles like this (especially as someone with bipolar) because so many people will use them to say "look, you just need to get out more and it will cure your mental health issues! Get exercise, go to a play, do more journaling, you don't need medication!" when, in fact, many of us need medication. I'm so so glad that this exists! And it's also a fantastic complement to medical treatment but I can't imagine it's a replacement for it, and the article doesn't talk at all about other treatments the people profiled might be receiving.

I also think it's an indictment of society at large that this is what we have to do to enable people to experience culture. Singing, going to plays and museums, these are such healthy things for everyone, not just those of us with mental health issues! And yet they are so hard and rare for many people to access because of the limited time and money we have available to us and the way culture is deprioritized in favor of commerce*.

*Smash capitalism
posted by an octopus IRL at 8:51 AM on July 31, 2019 [10 favorites]

When I quit drinking I knew I needed to find something to get me out of the house on a regular schedule, and interacting with others. I joined a neighborhood choir and wow, it really hit that sweet spot for me.

There's something about the endorphin rush you get when singing in harmony with others that is so unique and uplifting. I get it that it doesn't work for everyone (nothing can), but for me it was a bit of a revelation.

Now if only we can put together a choir that sings about nothing but smashing capitalism!
posted by kinsey at 9:05 AM on July 31, 2019 [10 favorites]

As a person who suffers from anxiety I view this as in addition to treatment, whether medication or therapy.
posted by ellieBOA at 9:41 AM on July 31, 2019

So far, 200 people, mostly women in their late 30s or 40s with family commitments, have taken part in the Aalborg programme. “They tell me, ‘I used to do this sort of thing a lot before I had kids.’ I tell them, ‘This sounds depressingly familiar’,” Nielsen says.

Well. Not to disparage the arts at all, but I suspect many of these women would respond well to a justification to do anything fun and nonpressured where they felt on the receiving end of a caregiving relationship for once.

a choir that sings about nothing but smashing capitalism

Fantasia on the Internationale!
posted by praemunire at 9:44 AM on July 31, 2019 [3 favorites]

This is great. All the social benefits of church, but without needing to believe in things you don't agree with.
posted by clawsoon at 9:46 AM on July 31, 2019 [11 favorites]

Here you can get a prescription to go to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (link).

The Städel Museum is Frankfurt as a program for people with dementia and their care givers (link).

As a museum professional, I am excited about these programs!
posted by keeo at 2:24 PM on July 31, 2019 [1 favorite]

I strongly agree that community, creative, cultural and artistic involvement with life as being one of the fundamental keys to not just helping heal, manage or outright cure depression.

I agree so strongly with this it's nearly a violence, a beautiful loving violence.

I will also agree that it is a really good starting place to working on depression before even therapy or medication - and those are valid options, not discounting or minimizing them.

I think they're good first options because they are there ready to be used whether or not you have insurance, a doctor, or even a stablity and can help lead to those things.

I'm also going to go on a tangent and tie art to volunteering because they're related and I do both and they do help.

Involvement is not a magic pill. Nor even actual pills are magic pills. It's just one potential thing that can help. It's one part of the work.

But in particular I want to extol the many rewards of volunteering and doing good work of some kind - and I want to be really clear I am not suggesting this is easy, to try to lift yourself by these proverbial bootstraps. That's not what I'm talking about, really, because you don't have to do that.

Ever help someone clean their room when you couldn't clean your own? It's sometimes easier to help someone else before yourself, because of the lack of self-care issue that comes up with depression and anxiety and related.

I'm actually an introvert and I know this because I recharge my batteries at home, alone, being quiet and not talking at all or typing or interacting for hours, days, more. I deal with a lot of anxiety and some agoraphobia. I have major, major self esteem issues and I'm extremely self-doubting and self critical - despite having a bit of real confidence and some false confidence and insecurity too.

I also deal with major, major amounts of inertia and procrastination and I do actually have a really hard time actually doing the basic things. Keeping my room tidy. Holding a decent job, applying myself to a career. Oh dear, most of MeFi would hate to shoulder surf or do a ride along with me on a job search, you'd be yelling at me within an hour because I wouldn't have even opened my resume yet.

And for whatever it is worth I have done many, many thousands of hours thinking about the many reasons why I would feel this bad with depression most of the time and why anyone else might deal with depression - and the common refrain tends to be trauma.

But I also want to particularly talk about, point out and acknowledge that a lot of people deeply struggle with the very stressful and oppressive nature of our society. The rat race, the inequities, the stresses of keeping a roof and walls around a family, keeping them fed, getting up for work when you hate yourself for doing so because the sleep is just that good, sitting in traffic, dealing with endless, endless amounts of bullshit to, well, eat or be eaten.

That this shit, in general, really stinks. You maybe really should go to your window, throw up the sash and stick your head out and yell "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore." because frankly I don't know how most of the people I personally know here, there and everywhere do what they do and keep on trucking at the jobs, commitments and roles and lives they have in this world, and I'm am emphatically including all the unpaid labor emotional and otherwise and general inequity that women in particular face in all of this.

And to be clear, not calling on women to volunteer therapeutically in this role and overextend emotional labor or even suggesting that women who already don't have enough spoons in their drawer to consider this as a part of therapy. I am bringing up this volunteerism as a cultural therapy, and I will actually tie this back to art.

And to share how this relates to me with volunteering helping solve that nagging question of "Why is everything fucked?" as part of the recipe for depression and, well, I guess I'm talking about community solidarity.

And why this is incredibly personally rewarding and healing in ways that have nothing to do with being a helper or assuaging a guilt or - guh - virtue signaling.

I think volunteering like this can really help fight off these cultural stresses of "Why is everything fucked" related depression/anxiety inducing stresses because you get to do something about it directly.

Nothing I have done in my life has been more personally rewarding, healing and a gift of growth than humbling myself to do honest work and serve people of all kinds. The doing good work builds real self esteem. especially the people I might actively dislike because they're grabby and rude, or even because I don't like how dirty their hands are or other things that personally peeve me about some of these volunteer things I've been doing.

It's helped be because it made me dig down and think about how I've been grabby, to question what I take, why I don't like serving this particular person and how that reflects on me and my own projections.

And the end result is it just straight up hands you tools and development to heal those things, direct reflections or orthogonal tangents. I promise you with all my heart it will hand you valuable tools before you've realized what's happened.

There is also the side effect of experience a lot of real empathy and perspective.

Bear with me, I'm tired and rambling and I need to tie this back to art.

I make and share art and engage in art as well as part of my mental health component and to be and exist in this fucked up timeline. It helps me process things and grow and heal. it's a small thing but I just listened to a DJ set I haven't listened to in months I made almost a year ago, in the context of just now and hanging around starwatching with friends, and it was one I built to tell a story about a lot of emotional loss my community experienced last year.

It just unlocked and relieved some of that grief, because of that process and experience of making that art and building that communication and story and arc. Without ego, it's not about the object I made or it being good or bad, but the process that made it and the memory of it.

Art is frequently about these regrets, growths, shifts, context and perspective changes, and there are so many links and tropes about art and mental health and depression.

And doing this work with music is definitely essentially all volunteer, too.

I have a lot of experience in the arts at this point. I have met incredible fine artists, painters, sculptors, dancers and so many musicians that listing them all would be about a novella length phone book.

All of the creators and artists I know that weren't producing ego-driven fluff or pabulum dealt with mental health issues, with doubt, with momentum, with messy uncleaned rooms and sinks full of dishes and all of the things that this cure is suggesting to cure.

I once interviewed at a notably deep art school program to be basically an art janitor help desk person, at a place that did intensive residency programs for multidisciplinary programs ranging from writing to poetry to dance or installation work that's pretty much focused on this exact kind of cultural trauma and processing of these deep issues that we face.

The first question in the interview was "How well do you deal with emotional crisis and trauma?"

This isn't a trope of art, it's part of deep art.

Art is also a form of volunteerism of yourself just as much as volunteering at an animal shelter or food bank or soup kitchen or community garden.

Most of these artists that I know didn't really set out creating the product you may now see or experience in a museum or installation or concert because they thought it might pay the bills or make them rich and famous or match someone's couch.

Many artists make things because they have something they want to say and share about the human condition. With you. They want to inspire you to do and feel and process something similar, and heal in similar ways. This is process in art, to dig into the loam of your life and culture and share and talk about the hurt and the joy.

And there is a deep emotional labor component to making art and engaging that process, and then sharing it and being vulnerable to it and engaging an audience, either as a performer or visual artist or in any media. It is an effort.

And part of engaging art is engaging that effort for yourself, your own volunteering of your time to engage this media, message, object, wash of color, representation, song or melody or rhythm. You engage this, with your time, and become active.

Please, go do things. Get out there and look at art. Go push those boundaries and comfort zones. Experience something that moves you. Please, do try to go feel inspired. Make something. Anything.

Volunteer your time to yourself to make and create and participate and find a voice for what ails you. Play the blues, pick up a guitar, write a book, fingerpaint, take pictures of moss or street signs and find a voice and speak, if only for yourself.

It's ok to fail. It doesn't have to be good. Almost anything you try at first won't be good, and is likely to fail. Do it again, maybe a little different.

I don't care if it's a walk around the block or taking out one bag of trash or diving right into writing an absolutely awful musical, or diving in to service like volunteering at something.

Go be a failure, it's ok. Start taking out the trash even if you don't get all of it.. Put on your last clean or otherwise cleanest clothes. Go to an open mic and sit in the corner and watch other people try to fail. Go to a free gallery night and see some bad art, or maybe even some really good art. Go out to a trail and go for a hike and turn back because it was too steep. Go sit in the trees and get rained out. Try and paint something only to hate it. Pick up a guitar and suck at playing Wonderwall. Take that stinky shit to the open mic and be vulnerable, it'll be ok.

Do go experience art. Go to your library and ask for art passes. Heck, just go to the library and check out the art there. And then ask for art passes.

Do also seek professional help and what ails you, but I don't think that art, music and culture and this sort of community engagement is some auxiliary luxury, but an essential component to mental health and a well lived life. For everyone.

And it's not a horrible place to take your first step.

I think this creative engagement either as a viewer or creator is especially essential for women and that it's important that, say, a husband or male partner makes and holds space for this and, well, backs the fuck off if his/their partner or any partner wants to take up art, music, a hobby, a volunteer gig that isn't related to employment or education or whatever goals and so on ad nauseum.

That it's important for women in total to have this space and not have it taken from them by anyone be it employer or family or cultural pressure or the patriarchy, and I'm only bringing the above up because it's so common and I want to point it out.

Not for any mystical aesthetics bullshit but because of the emotional labor inequity in particular not leaving much room for the vast majority of women to find the time and space for exploring and finding this voice and engagement due to the pressures of everything from wage inequity to childcare inequity and unpaid labor.

Because the process of art is to find a voice and engage these things, for all these reasons trauma to cultural stress and this is why art is important as a path to healing and growth.

It's not just pretty or soothing or something refined that you should feel obligated to appreciate in some particular way or some particular message. It's not an ivory tower. Art isn't intellectual or scholarly, it's pain and process and emotions and someone trying to speak and say something that isn't always easy to say.

It's important because art gives you a voice, even if you're resonating with someone else's art and voice.

Art's most important function may be that it allows you to speak to and for yourself.

And as the sticker says in art studios around the world "Bad artist! Go to your studio and make stuff!"
posted by loquacious at 1:09 AM on August 1, 2019 [3 favorites]

kinsey: a choir that sings about nothing but smashing capitalism!

In the SF Bay Area, there's Occupella (based in the East Bay). (I'm also acquainted with another group in SF, and one in Marin. Contact me for details.) Occupella's calendar page doesn't seem to be working so I dunno if they're still active, but I know they were active a year or two ago, and for anybody who might want to start up their own protest singing group, check out their Songbooks collection (lyrics only, but tunes are easily look up-able on Youtube): They haven't organized a Smashing Capitalism section, but you could easily fit that into Zipper Songs ("Zip in new words to fit your event. We're grateful to the Civil Rights, Labor, Women's and other movements for peace and justice for developing these songs & keeping them alive"). Also there are sections for Black Lives Matter, Environmental Justice, Social Justice, Science, Teachers, Parodies (this one has a song titled "Pay Up Your Corporate Tax")...
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 2:58 PM on August 1, 2019

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