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Creative Arts in Community Mental Health and Alcohol and Other Drugs Recovery

Port Macquarie Community College
Project Added:
19 October 2016
Last updated:
19 October 2016

Creative Arts in Community Mental Health and Alcohol and Other Drugs Recovery


This project established four community arts programs in Port Macquarie Community College.  The programs help participants with mental health and Alcohol and Other Drugs (AOD) challenges rebuild their confidence and provide them with important life skills. It also reduces the stigma of mental health issues and provides participants with a sense of belonging in the communities where they live.


To improve the health and wellbeing of people with mental health and AOD challenges in Port Macquarie, by empowering them with creative arts activities and skills development.


  • Improves physical health and social and emotional wellbeing.
  • Increases social inclusion and self-confidence.
  • Encourages healthy behaviours in people with mental health and AOD challenges.
  • Provides participants with skills to enhance job prospects and make positive life choices.
  • Supports small business start-ups and job seeking.
  • Provides participants with a sense of belonging and community engagement.
  • Delivers person-centred care, with an integrated program of recovery.
  • Reduces self-harming behaviours, as well as mental health and AOD admissions.
  • Enhances collaboration between clinicians, Community Health teams, carers and consumers.
  • Reduces stigma and improves community awareness of challenges with mental health and AOD recovery.
  • Provides a standardised program of activity that can be rolled out across the community college network.


In March 2014, Port Macquarie Community College embarked on an innovative program to engage and support vulnerable communities, including people with mental health and AOD challenges, Indigenous people, women and youth at risk. Prior to the project, people in these vulnerable communities were isolated and lonely, needing both clinical and support services to help them on their recovery journey. They often lacked confidence, self-esteem and basic life skills such as cooking, budgeting and social skills.

Research shows a correlation between creative arts and improvement to mental health, however prior to the project there were no creative arts activities available at the College. As a result, the College decided to develop a ‘creative arts for recovery’ project, to complement and enhance participants’ recovery.


Four community programs were established in Port Macquarie, providing support and development activities for people in mental health or AOD recovery. The programs were developed through consultation with consumers and boards, including the Human Service Alliance Group. A literature review was also undertaken to find evidence of creative arts projects that have had an impact on mental health, such as the School of Hard Knocks.

Programs were designed to attract a range of participants, from those with intellectual and physical disabilities to those with extreme mental health issues. In general, all participants have some kind of mental health challenge. Class sizes vary from eight to more than 40, depending on the objectives of the program.

Moving Forward with Confidence

This program involves a series of narrative sharing sessions in small groups, which help participants develop confidence and empathy. Participants are encouraged not to dwell on issues, but help each other by sharing the good things happening in their lives and the things that are helping them. They are taught acceptable behaviours and encouraged to see themselves as a valuable member of society. The program also helps participants build friendships and acceptance, so they feel worthwhile and lift the spirits of other participants.

Life Skills Express

This program teaches participants basic life skills, including cooking, budgeting, online safety, computer skills for beginners and social manners.

The Absolutely Everybody Choir of the School of Hard Knocks

This program was developed in collaboration with the School of Hard Knocks and allows participants to enjoy the healing power of music, with the aim of improving mental health and cognitive function.

The Endeavour Mental Health Recovery Clubhouse

Developed in collaboration with the Schizophrenia Fellowship of NSW, this program is a clubhouse where participants can go for acceptance and encouragement. They are encouraged to push themselves and undertake activities such as looking for work, completing education and improving their life situation.

A Participative Action Research and Appreciative Inquiry was also established as part of the project, to develop an ongoing contemporary evidence base. It comprises research tools that collect feedback from participants in a way that allows them to tell their story and share their thoughts and feeling about how they are progressing in the program. Questions are open-ended, to determine whether there have been any improvements since joining the program.

Project status

Implementation - the initiative is ready for implementation or is currently being implemented, piloted or tested.

Key dates

Project start: March 2014

Project implementation complete: February 2017

Project evaluation: December 2017

Implementation sites

  • Port Macquarie Community College, Port Macquarie
  • Endeavour Mental Health Recovery Clubhouse, Port Macquarie
  • Mid North Coast Conservatorium of Music Building, Port Macquarie

Moving forward, the project will be extended to regional centres including Kempsey and the Nambucca Valley.


  • Schizophrenia Fellowship of NSW
  • Community Colleges Australia
  • Mid North Coast Local Health District
  • Mid North Coast Human Services Alliance
  • School of Hard Knocks Choir
  • University of Queensland


  • A study by the University of Queensland on the benefits of participating in the School of Hard Knocks Choir is underway and will be completed by November 2016.
  • Following implementation of all programs in February 2017, evaluations will take place each quarter, with qualitative and quantitative measures including:
    • participative action research and appreciative inquiry evaluation reporting and research records
    • attendance rates
    • rates of AOD use
    • mental health incidents
    • participant survey
    • one-on-one interviews
    • focus groups using patient experience trackers.
  • As of October 2016, there has been a 74% decrease in hospital admissions among participants since joining the School of Hard Knocks Choir.
  • As of October 2016, there has been an increase of 25% in activities that participants would not have considered before joining the School of Hard Knocks Choir, such as getting their driver’s licence, working part time, undertaking studies and reconciling with family members.
  • An assessment of AOD use in participants is currently underway.
  • Participant feedback is provided on a weekly basis and used to continually improve the program. This feedback suggests an increase in confidence and acceptance among participants.

Lessons learnt

  • Significant preparation is required before launching new community mental health projects. Stakeholders need plenty of time to get used to new processes, such as referrals, shared case management, timing of activities and transport.
  • Partnerships are essential and it takes time to develop mutually agreed roles and responsibilities between partners.
  • Giving a voice to consumers and carers is vital from day one.
  • Managers, clinicians and support staff in the public sector and non-government organisations need to be educated about what’s involved, to avoid conflict during the change management process. It’s a good idea to get them involved early on and allow them to experience the process first hand.


Lloyd R. Going walkabout together through the suburbs (GW3TS). Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis. University of Western Sydney; 2010.

Naylor C, Das P, Ross S et al. Bringing together physical and mental health: a new frontier for integrated care. United Kingdom: The Kings Fund; 2016.

Quinlan F. Mental health reform at the crossroads. Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies; 2016.


Dr Robbie Lloyd
Community Relationships Manager
Port Macquarie Community College
Phone: 02 6516 2245

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