Research digest: Young people’s mental health

Author(s):*Listed Alphabetically
Dowlen R

Year of Publication:

Centre for Cultural Value

Publication Type:
Other Paper


A research digest of 20 peer-reviewed studies by the Centre for Cultural Value, which examines impacts and outcomes relating to young people’s mental health and wellbeing as to where do arts and cultural programmes fit into this picture. Their research digests are based on a rapid assessment of published literature to present a ‘snapshot’ of cultural value research across a number of core themes.

In recent years there has been an increased interest in the role that arts and culture play in the mental health and wellbeing of young people. This is in line with the fact that many mental health challenges have their first onset within adolescence, with it estimated that one in ten children and young people in the UK are living with a mental health diagnosis. We wanted to understand what evidence there is to support or challenge the value of culture in the context of young people’s (aged 11-25) mental health and wellbeing.

We identified 20 peer-reviewed studies which examined impacts and outcomes relating to young people’s mental health and wellbeing. Across these published studies, music programmes were the most commonly represented. A wide range of populations were explored across studies, including: young people in youth justice contexts; young people experiencing homelessness; indigenous young people living in Canada; and young people at risk of developing mental health challenges.

The strongest evidence is currently represented within the qualitative literature. For methodological reasons, it is not possible at this point to draw any firm conclusions from the quantitative literature. This is because of the wide range of self-report questionnaires that were used within each individual study, which prevents comparison across studies.

The qualitative literature paints a picture of the value of cultural programmes in building young people’s confidence and self-esteem, and how this is built up through the opportunity to showcase artwork, compose music and devise theatre pieces. The positive feedback received through showcasing their work leads to young people feeling a sense of pride and achievement.

Engaging with culture also helps young people to cope with difficult feelings and act as a distraction from negative thoughts, with the phrase ‘safe space’ being a recurrent term within the literature.

Overall, while there is promising evidence that there is a positive value of cultural experiences in supporting young people’s mental health and wellbeing, there is a need to further explore concepts of ‘safe spaces’, the role of cultural practitioners in these complex contexts, and an exploration of longer-term outcomes through rigorous mixed-methods research.

Main Focus: Mental Health

Research Purpose: Literature Review

Context: Community

Participant Group: Young People (16-25)

Art Forms: Multi-Arts

Access Type: Free Download

APA Citation:

Dowlen, R. 2021. Research digest: Young people’s mental health. Version 1, November 2021. Leeds: Centre for Cultural Value.