in Montpellier, grief and anxiety are cured in museums

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Montpellier (AFP) – Under the high ceilings of a former pharmacy school in Montpellier, converted into a center for contemporary art, André, Kevin and Ambre work on clay under the supervision of an artist. Referred by their psychiatrist, they participated in the “art of prescription” pilot program.

From very different ages and walks of life, but with episodes of depression or anxiety in common, these three patients, attended by the psychiatric and post-emergencies department (Dupup) of Montpellier University Hospital, have so far shown little interest in art.

But they still honored this special treatment of the letter, for several weeks.

For Mo.Co, the city’s center for contemporary arts, and the university hospital’s psychiatry department, the “belief” is shared: there is an “urgent need to raise public awareness about the benefits of artistic commitment to mental health”, emphasizes Professor Philippe Courtet, of Montpellier University Hospital.

Unprecedented in France, this project, which was inspired by experiments carried out in Belgium, Canada or England, has one ambition, “get patients out of the hospital by prescribing art for them”, added the professor.

“It’s liberating, so liberating”, confides with a smile Ambre Castells, a 17-year-old high school student, pouring paraffin into a clay mold: “When I’m here, it’s as if everything that can make me potentially bad starts”.

Patients from the psychiatric unit of the University Hospital Montpellier take part in an artistic workshop, at the contemporary art museum in the city, on January 7, 2023 © SYLVAAIN THOMAS / AFP

Kevin Gineste, 23, has seen “natural anxiety wear off”. “You could go see a psychologist, but the best thing is to do something with my hands, to externalize what I have in me”, he said, pleased to have met “people with the same type of problems” and now ready to “go to museums more often.

Break insulation

“It’s a workshop around soft, malleable materials, which change shape and move from a solid state to a liquid state, in contact with the hand. That lets you absorb the experience”, explains visual artist Suzy Lelièvre who observed it.

At their side, wearing a white apron to keep from getting dirty, André Broussous, 60, is happily “improving” “the way of using (his) hands” this time, having been initiated into the year for body expression, under the auspices of dancer Anne Lopez.

“Choreography gave me the art of fitting into a group, which was not easy at first, as well as more confidence in how I could express myself, to move myself,” he recalls.

“Mental health disorders, such as depression, lead to social isolation and a lack of self-esteem, which helps to break down in groups”, underlines Philippe Courtet, who has a passion for contemporary art.

“Here, it’s not the artist who goes to the patient, but the patient who goes to the museum, meets the artist and enters their universe,” emphasizes Elodie Michel, another psychiatrist at CHU.

In 2022, the program will involve three groups of approximately ten patients. In the program: a one-month artistic journey, combining a visit to an exhibition and an artistic practice workshop.

At each session, they are accompanied by a student of fine arts and an intern in psychiatry, especially the one in charge of the scientific evaluation of the project.

Philippe Courtet, psychiatrist at the University Hospital of Montpellier, prescribing artistic activities for patients, January 7, 2023
Philippe Courtet, psychiatrist at the University Hospital of Montpellier, prescribing artistic activities for patients, January 7, 2023 © SYLVAAIN THOMAS / AFP

Completely free to attendees, “l’art sur prescription” is financed by Mo.Co, the Regional Health Agency, the Regional Directorate for Cultural Affairs (Drac), as well as the city and metropolitan area of ​​Montpellier, which has within its walls the world’s oldest medical school still in operation.

“We hope this program (can) be extended to everyone and replaced by social security”, pleaded Mo.Co director Numa Hambursin, stressing that in Canada treating doctors can already prescribe up to 50 museum visits per year to their hospitals. patient.

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