Mujaheed Shaikh and co-researchers find links between inequity in arts engagement and mental health

Their paper in the journal Public Health finds inequities in the UK have worsened over a ten-year period.

In a new paper exploring the links between arts engagement and mental health in England, Mujaheed Shaikh, Hertie School Professor of Health Governance, and other researchers find that inequality in arts engagement has worsened over time and can be considered inequitable (unfair), when data is standardised for need.

In the article, “Socio-economic inequalities in arts engagement and depression among older adults in the United Kingdom: evidence from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing”, published in the September 2021 issue of Public Health, Shaikh, Urszula Tymoszuk of the Royal College of Music in London, and Aaron Williamon and Marisa Miraldo, both of Imperial College London, measured trends over a ten-year period. The study estimates socio-economic inequality and inequity (unfair inequality) in arts engagement in relation to the symptoms of depression in older adults.

“Arts engagement has been positively linked with mental health and well-being, but socio-economic inequalities may be prevalent in access to and uptake of arts engagement reflecting on inequalities in mental health,” the authors write.

The study is based on data regarding the engagement of adults over 50 in the arts, derived from parts of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. The authors estimated socio-economic inequality using concentration curves that plot the distribution of arts engagement and depression symptoms against the distribution of wealth. 

Regarding policy measures, the authors write: “Relying on need-unstandardised estimates of inequality might thus provide a false sense of achievement to policy makers and lead to improper social prescribing interventions being emplaced.”

Find the study in Science Direct here.

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