Social prescribing linked me to art which saved my life

Case study summary

Deb Taylor talks about how art saved her life which she access through social prescribing.


To say that art saved my life is an understatement, it has transformed it beyond any recognition of what it used to be.

I had reached rock bottom, the lowest any one person can go. I thought there was only one way out. One way to end the cycle of depression that had blighted my life from childhood. As part of my discharge I was referred to psychological services. As I sat there waiting for the assessment I saw a leaflet “Creative Minds – Art for wellbeing” I picked the leaflet up and rang the number. Come along to a taster session and see if you like it. So I did, and that’s the day my life changed.

6 December 2011, I remember that day so well. I was very nervous as I was often bed bound with my mental illness and was heavily medicated with my children as my carers. My friend dropped me off at the Artworks, and I walked in the massive old mill, shaking and wondering what I was letting myself in for. I sat at the table, as close to the door as I could get (in case I needed to run out)

I started to draw and suddenly something started to come alive in me. Something I had never felt before. I was often the butt of many jokes with my children over my drawings, but here I was actually drawing something that resembled what it actually looked like. I was so pleased, I showed it my daughters when I returned home (who didn’t believe I had drawn it and I had to draw it again in front of them to prove that I had actually done it and that I hadn’t got the tutor draw it and I was taking credit for it.

Art allowed me to find myself. I was not pressured to answer questions I did not know the answers to. Depression just happens, it just is there, you cannot define when it strikes the same as you cannot define a headache or migraine and no one asks why you have them, it is accepted and people offer sympathy and try and give advice on how best to deal with it, but with depression you are expected to know what is wrong with you, when in reality you have no idea at all why you feel the way you do. It just happens…..

Instead of the stress of life and the 1,000 mile and hour my brain raced at, it was slowing my brain down, it was focusing on something other than my illness. I was amazed just how much drawing and painting helped stop the race swirling around my head. It was two and a half hours a week, but that allowed me to start finding me. It allowed me to be someone other than a mental health patient, more than my diagnosis. I was an artist. A person. A member of society that was actively involved in life itself. Now this might be a concept that many people find strange,  but having being a service user most of my life, it was normal to be told what to do, it was something I was used to, grown up with, I never knew any different.

I was on the course for just short of two years. I then got my own artist studio and continued with art as my therapeutic tool. I still have the mental illness, but I manage it rather than it managing me. I was very heavily medicated and had been medically retired due to my mental illness; I was on benefits for over 14 years. I now work full time – for the NHS – promoting mental health and suicide awareness. It feels great to be able to give something back. It feels great to be working and providing for my family. I have sold over 100 paintings, had an exhibition at canary wharf in London. I am no longer defined as a service user.

To say art saved my life is not a phrase I use lightly, it saved it yes, but it transformed it beyond any recognition to anything I have ever had before. Art has given me a life, an identity, a voice and a future.

From feeling useless and a drain on the NHS, I am now adding value and giving back.  I was voted 5th in the NHS top 70 stand out stars, won my trust’s excellence award for outstanding achievement and was a short listed candidate for Yorkshire woman of achievement.  I am contributing, committed and passionate about spreading the word: social prescribing based on what matters to an individual can unlock a whole new future.