Men’s mental health and the arts: perceived benefits and dynamics of engagement

Shane O’Donnell*, Maria Lohan, John L. Oliffe, David Grant, Noel Richardson, Karen Galway

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
35 Downloads (Pure)


Arts engagement is gaining recognition as a non-clinical approach to promote mental health and well-being. However, the perceived utility of the arts to promote mental health among men with low socioeconomic status (SES) and how to best engage them is underexplored. This study explores the lived experiences of men with low SES who engage with the arts in Northern Ireland (n = 41). Data collected via focus groups (n = 5) and interviews (n = 11) were analysed using reflexive thematic analysis to inductively derive four themes. Theme 1 highlights how the arts facilitated friendship, a collective identity, peer support and a reason to socialize. Themes 2 and 3 explore how the arts enhanced self-esteem and emotional regulation by developing a routine, purpose, sense of mastery, a sense of catharsis through immersion in a soothing endeavour and an alternative outlet for self-expression. Theme 4 covers strategies that facilitate male engagement in the arts such as using a familiar space, delivering to an existing male group, framing the programme around male interests not health or creativity, building on existing strengths and capacities, enabling ownership, using tangible action-orientated activities, and being non-authoritative and flexible with delivery. This is one of the first studies to highlight the gendered dimensions in which men with low SES engage with and experience mental health benefits through arts engagement. This study points towards relevant theories to further understand the pathways between the arts and improved mental health among men which can inform development of tailored arts programmes for men.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberdaad092
Number of pages12
JournalHealth Promotion International
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 17 Aug 2023


  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health (social science)


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