Art therapy to support refugees' and asylum seekers' mental health

It’s no secret that the cost-of-living crisis is having a detrimental impact on our mental health. A poll by the Mental Health Foundation in November 2022 found that more than one-third of UK adults (34%) felt anxious, and almost three in ten (29%) felt stressed in the past month. Yet, when compounded with the inequalities that already existed in our city, namely the 28% of Londoners who were already living in poverty, the outlook is truly concerning.

Asylum seekers and refugees are some of the most vulnerable groups within this 28% – and indeed in society – with limited or no access to public funds. This coupled with the deep trauma that comes with seeking safety in another country can take a heavy toll on their emotional and psychological wellbeing. According to the Refugee Council, 61% of asylum seekers experience serious mental distress and refugees are five times more likely to have mental health needs than the wider UK population.

To tackle this, New Art Studio in Islington has been providing specialist art therapy to asylum seekers and refugee across London since 2014. They use art therapy to help asylum and refugee seekers who have experienced severe trauma including violence, social isolation, PTSD, anxiety, loneliness, or who have difficulties integrating and more.

Refugees are five times more likely to have mental health needs than the wider UK population
Refugee Council

Their beneficiaries, known as studio members, are financially vulnerable, sometimes receiving just £40.85 of Universal Credit each week, living in temporary accommodation, hostels or homeless shelters. They navigate complex and unfamiliar systems and environments, all while contending with language and cultural barriers.

New Art Studio’s safe and inclusive therapeutic multi-arts studio supports up to 20 people each week, helping them to process their trauma and communicate difficult feelings, leading to healing. The service is delivered by qualified and experienced art psychotherapists with experience in both the NHS and private practice. Studio members are also involved in the running of the organisation – interviewing volunteers and coordinating fundraising activities. All while New Art Studio helps them find employment and gain new practical skills such as sending letters to the Home Office and solicitors, or regarding their housing benefits.

Through their work, New Art Studio has seen how the cost-of-living crisis is having a profound impact on studio members’ mental wellbeing. Their £10,000 Together for London grant will enable them to continue to deliver much-needed therapy support to those affected by the crisis. It will cover the salaries of qualified psychotherapists, studio rent and bills, travel costs for beneficiaries, art materials, lunches for beneficiaries, as well clinical supervision. For their studio members, it will mean food vouchers for those needing urgent help, art materials for those unable to attend the studio, as well as people affected by the crisis outside of studio hours – a total of 320 engagements.

It is inspiring small, local community organisations like New Art Studio that the most excluded in our society turn to for trust and support. And it is these local community organisations we, in turn, need to support to make the most difference here in London. Show your solidarity today – find out how you can support a project like this in your area.