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Arts participation ‘vital’ to mental wellbeing of young people

23 May 2024 4 minute read
National Youth Arts Wales production rehearsal. Image copyright Kirsten McTernan

National Youth Arts Wales has called for more action to tackle the ‘mental health crisis’ facing young people in Wales – highlighting the significant role that arts participation could play in addressing this.

According to the latest report from the School Health Research Network (SHRN) at Cardiff University, 24% of teenagers in Wales reported “very high” levels of mental health symptoms in the years following COVID-19 lockdowns,.

Girls were almost twice as likely as boys to have reported very high levels of mental health symptoms.

Similarly, Mind Cymru published research showing that 34% of young people aged 16-24 experienced declining mental health during the past year.

High numbers reported feeling more stressed (42%), more anxious (41%), more depressed (36%) and suffering worse sleep (39%), and around a third also reported developing feelings of loneliness (30%).


Evidence published by the Social Biobehavioural Research Group at UCL shows that young people who engage regularly in the arts are at a lower risk of depression in adolescence. They also have higher self-esteem, which in turn affects lifelong development and wellbeing.

For the hundreds of young people taking part in the National Youth Arts Wales (NYAW) youth ensembles and projects, the charity says they have seen first-hand the important role the arts plays in their health and happiness:

An NYAW Residency Member said: “Being a member of NYAW was really valuable to my mental health over lockdown… Returning to an in-person residency in 2022 was an incredible experience, which definitely helped me regain a lot of the confidence that I had lost over lockdown.”

The charity says that they have heard similarly positive news stories from many partner organisations throughout Wales, including National Music Services Wales, the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Urdd Gobaith Cymru, the Aloud Charity, National Dance Company Wales, Ballet Cymru, the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Theatr Clwyd and others.

Wales has a rich and diverse ecology of arts opportunities for young people, from primary age, right up to higher education, and beyond.

The introduction of the National Plan for Music Education in 2022 helped increase collaboration across all the national music organisations, and  developing similar strategies are being developed across the theatre and dance sectors.

Public investment

In its budget for 2024-25, the Welsh Government made cuts across many sectors to address a significant shortfall in its £23bn budget.

Support for culture, sport and tourism has dropped by £16m (including a 10.5% cut to the Arts Council of Wales) as the government reprioritises spending for health services. This will drop by a further £1.9m as local authority budgets are impacted. As a result, arts provision for young people will inevitably be reduced.

According to NYAW, we can expect to see a direct impact on the mental and physical health of young people throughout Wales, with knock-on impacts to the NHS and social services.

Those consequential additional costs, they say, could be greater than the £18m that has been taken away from arts provision.

Evan Dawson, CEO of NYAW said: “The budget for arts education and participation in Wales delivers a huge return on that investment.

“We urgently need the government to understand that spending less on arts provision for young people will increase strain on the NHS.

“Conversely, if we invest more in targeted arts provision, we would support mental health for everyone, whilst building a confident, creative and generous Wales for future generations.”

David Jackson OBE, Chair of NYAW said: “The positive impact on mental health of participating in the arts is well established, and never has this effect been more needed than now.

“It is crucial that National Youth Arts Wales should continue to develop and expand its activities for the benefit of the young people of Wales.”

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