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Key takeaways:

  • Programme supports a groups of different people with a wide range of challenges, but its main focus to improve mental health confidence and self-esteem.
  • Funding came from ACE cultural recovery grant.
  • Session structures were adapted and evaluated with different forms of the Warwick Edinburgh Scale and a custom scale, according to participant groups and their needs.
  • Qualitative data such as case studies and films complemented the quantitative data collected.

Breathe Magic for Mental Health (BMMH) explores the effect of magic on improving mental health, confidence and self-esteem building on ten years of research and feedback from the Breathe Magic Intensive Therapy Programme.  Research published in the medical journal BMC Pediatrics in 2020 looked at the impact of the Breathe Magic programme on the mental health of young people with hemiplegia.  The BMMH programme was designed to explore this further and understand if magic could be beneficial for mental health in its own right.The programme is tailored to aid mental health and wellbeing improvement in groups with a wide range of challenges, adapting to the impact of the pandemic.

In 2021, Breathe Arts Health Research secured 7 months of funding from the Arts Council England (ACE) Cultural Recovery Fund grants to deliver this work.

This emergency response funding enabled Breathe to very quickly respond to the mental health needs arising from the pandemic. Due to the emergency nature of this funding we had to be agile and flexible, working to very tight deadlines. With this short notice, how could we ensure evaluation of the programmes would be meaningful?  Particularly given the varying needs of the groups – young people experiencing autism, dyspraxia, depression, anxiety and negative thoughts, adult brain injury survivors and women experiencing acute antenatal and postnatal mental illness.

A screenshot of a Magic for Mental Health zoom session, where eight Headway Eas London participants hold up their playing cards to their camera.

When developing the evaluation strategy, it was important to consider why and what we were evaluating. For BMMH, we wanted to assess the impact of the programme, build a case for its future development and report back to ACE. Funders have differing criteria for reporting; for ACE we knew demographic and geographical reach was important, so we collected this information across the programmes.

Next, we considered quantitative and qualitative measures we could use.  Breathe Arts Health Research staff managed collection of these.

The Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale is used commonly in the arts health sector before and after programmes to evaluate improvements to mental wellbeing.  There is a 14-item and 7-item scale.  For the young people, we conducted the 14-item scale via SurveyMonkey – this group participated in the BMMH programme online, were IT proficient and able to complete the scale independently. For the adult brain injury survivors, we chose the 7-item scale on paper – sessions were in-person and some participants required help from staff to complete the questionnaire, so a 14-item scale might take too long to complete.

Breathe Magician Edward Hilsum assisting a Headway Thames Valley client to perform the Dynamic Coin Trick.

Breathe Magician’s Jon Armstrong and Richard McDougall teaching the Dynamic Coin Trick at Headway Thames Valley.

For the women experiencing acute antenatal and postnatal mental illness, due to their capacity to complete complex evaluation forms and staff availability to support this we developed our own scale to measure wellbeing, in collaboration with occupational therapists on the ward. This was a simple smiley face scale marked 1-10 that women completed immediately before and after the session.

In addition to these scales, we asked for comments from participants of all the programmes on their experience.  These quotes ensured participant voices were captured, and we used these alongside the quantitative data we had collected to produce a clear and impactful infographic, for our own internal learning, to improve the case for support and to report back to ACE.

As well as capturing this evaluation data in sessions, we produced a film and case study during the course of the programme, once again capturing the participant voice and bringing their experience to life beyond facts and figures. Testimonies from lead staff members were also secured, focussed on their observations across the 6-8 week programmes.

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