The arts play a vital role in promoting and enhancing public mental health. Being able to access arts events and creative activities can help protect against a range of mental health conditions as well as help manage mental ill-health and aid recovery.

Creative expression empowers people to communicate their thoughts, feelings, and experiences in ways that words alone cannot. This can help people understand and manage their emotions, reducing feelings of stress and anxiety. For people who have lived through trauma, the arts can be a powerful tool to channel their inner struggles and help foster emotional resilience. The arts also support positive social engagement and community. The shared experiences help people connect in meaningful ways and combat loneliness which is a significant factor in mental health issues.

Yet, despite all this, we know that access to the arts is not equal across Scotland. So many people face barriers to taking part. It could be due to prohibitive costs, feeling that "people like me" don’t belong, or a lack of opportunity in the local community. We know that funding for programmes that encourage people to get involved in the arts are often among the first to go when budgets are being tightened, no matter how well-evidenced the benefits of art participation. It was disappointing to hear that Creative Scotland budgets have been slashed by more than £6.5 million, putting the whole sector in a precarious position.

When the Mental Health Foundation first launched the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival (SMHAF) 17 years ago, we wanted to break down the real or perceived barriers to the arts. It is crucial that everyone can benefit from the mental and emotional enrichment that the arts can provide. Through our work, we explore how the arts and creativity can help to prevent mental health problems and support people to live mentally healthier lives. Our innovative approach, combining high artistic quality with grassroots support, community engagement and social activism, has been replicated internationally.

Our ethos was and always will be inclusivity. Everyone is welcome and actively encouraged to get involved. We work closely with partners and communities in regions across Scotland to ensure that they feel a strong sense of ownership over their local programme and that our events address the issues that they care about most.

This year’s festival will be exploring the theme "Revolution". We will confront the impact of inequality on our mental health and ask, ‘how we can do things differently?’. Launching today with the day-long Manifesto event at the CCA in Glasgow, we have more than 180 events (majority free or pay what you can), including exhibitions, performances, film screenings with director Q&As, and community workshops, taking place across Scotland until October 22. We are proud to host SMHAF every year with support from Creative Scotland funding and bring the arts to thousands of people across Scotland. We hope to continue for many years to come, engaging artists and connecting communities with a celebration of the powerful impact of the arts in our fight for good mental health for all.

The ull SMHAF programme is at

Rob Dickie is Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival Manager at the Mental Health Foundation.