A recent study has shed light on the therapeutic potential of poetry, revealing that engaging with poems—be it reading, creating, or sharing can offer solace to individuals grappling with loneliness, isolation, anxiety, and despair. This research, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, was a collaborative effort between the University of Plymouth and Nottingham Trent University. The study, which involved 400 participants, underlined the positive impact of poetry on mental well-being, particularly during the challenging period of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The research highlighted the manifold benefits of poetry for individuals coping with common mental health concerns and those dealing with grief. More than half of the respondents (51%) affirmed that reading or composing poetry had been instrumental in addressing their feelings of loneliness and isolation, with an equivalent percentage citing its effectiveness in managing anxiety and sadness.
Additionally, the study revealed that a significant proportion of participants experienced reductions in anxiety (34%) and felt better equipped to confront their problems (24%) after engaging with the website. For 17% of the respondents, poetry helped them navigate the challenges of bereavement, while 16% reported alleviation of ongoing mental health symptoms.
Principal Investigator Anthony Caleshu, Professor of Poetry and Creative Writing at the University of Plymouth, emphasized the transformative power of poetry. He noted that both writing and reading poetry, along with interacting on the website, had a substantial positive influence on participants’ well-being during the pandemic. Beyond individual well-being, the website also served as a platform for societal and cultural recovery, providing insights into how poetry served as a means of expression during the crisis. It now stands as a historical archive chronicling how people worldwide utilized English language poetry to navigate the challenges of the pandemic.
The website drew more than 100,000 visitors from 128 countries and featured over 1,000 poems contributed by more than 600 authors, most of whom were the poets themselves. One participant in the study described poetry as a “lifeline throughout the pandemic, both reading and writing it, (sometimes a strong rope and other times a thin little string).”
Dr. Rory Waterman, Associate Professor of Modern and Contemporary Literature at Nottingham Trent University and a co-investigator in the study, highlighted the significance of connecting poetry with a community-building platform like the website. This approach, he explained, fosters a positive relationship between poetry and well-being by bringing people together, already having broken the ice.
Moreover, it is likely that other forms of creative and expressive writing that involve sharing and reciprocal discussion can similarly enhance individuals’ mental health. The study underscores the idea that various forms of creativity, including visual and performing arts, have the potential to provide outlets for people to make sense of their experiences during challenging times.