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Published:  11 Jul 2022

EU and WHO call for support for the mental well-being of forcibly displaced people through art and culture

The European Commission, the World Health Organisation and the project CultureForHealth have published an analysis of how art activities help improve the health and well-being of displaced people.

Clown doctors from Red Noses International perform for children in a refugee camp in Lesvos, Greece

The connection between art and mental well-being has long been recognised. Arts activities are made of multiple components known to promote health, including

  • social interaction
  • sensory activation
  • emotional expression
  • cognitive stimulation
  • physical activity

It is estimated that 84 million people were forcibly displaced in 2021 worldwide. In the first half of 2022, 17.5 million Ukrainians have been forced to leave their homes as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

People displaced because of natural disasters, persecution, conflict, generalised violence or human rights violations invariably experience significant loss, physical hardships and other stressors that can lead to psychological distress.

A large body of evidence shows how forcibly displaced people contribute positively to society. This potential can be further enhanced by ensuring that they are in good physical and mental health.

Therefore, according to the report, it is important to support the arts, as investing in the field is an investment in the mental, physical and social health of forcibly displaced people.

An example of action: Red Noses, the chance to be children

During a crisis, the use of clowning and providing a space for creativity can trigger a positive shift in focus for children by highlighting their strengths and abilities.

For example, in a refugee camp in Lesvos, Greece, clown doctors from Emergency Smile – the emergency response programme of Red Noses International – created a programme helping children and their families to cope with their challenging situation and express their feelings in a playful manner. 

Silvia, a volunteer in the camp, shared her experience with Emergency Smile.

I've never seen the kids laughing so much or being that happy and engaged… In a humanitarian context, it is easy to forget that all this is as important as providing for material needs and sometimes even more important... give these children the chance of being children, which is something all of them need and deserve.

About the report

Arts and health: supporting the well-being of forcibly displaced people was initiated by the CultureForHealth project.

Key contributors include the WHO Collaborating Centre for Arts and Health, University College London; the Arts and Health initiative, New York University; and the Nuffield Department of Population Health, University of Oxford.

© World Health Organisation, 2022

About CultureForHealth

CultureForHealth is a project co-funded by the European union with partners from all over Europe:

  • Culture Action Europe
  • Trans Europe Halles
  • Central Denmark Region
  • The Northern Dimension Partnership on Culture
  • Cluj Cultural Centre
  • Društvo Asociacija

CultureForHealth brings researchers, practitioners and policymakers together to generate knowledge, research and fieldwork in order to trigger cross-sectoral cooperation and policies that enhance well-being through culture.

The initiative will also institute six pilot projects in Denmark, Italy, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia aiming at management and treatment of illnesses as well as prevention and promotion for a variety of life stages and age groups.

Published:  11 Jul 2022