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How creative writing can boost wellbeing

Last updated: 26 March 2024

Person writing in notebook on white sheet

Creative writing is not just a fantastic way of tapping into your imagination – it can also support mental health and wellbeing, increase happiness, and even delay or reduce the symptoms of dementia.

There have been a number of studies over the years from around the world that have explored the benefits of writing and storytelling on wellbeing.

In June 2021, International Publishers Association published a Scottish study on how creative writing has a therapeutic effect on wellbeing, and can help process emotional difficulties.(this link will open in a new window) As part of the study, conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic, when many people were struggling with their mental health, a group of nine people attended a series of writing classes via Zoom, using personal difficulty as a backdrop.

The researchers, Catherine Deveney and Patrick Lawson from the University of Glasgow, found that there was a decrease in general anxiety scores amongst participants and an increased sense of general well-being, as they enjoyed the freedom and control over their fictional worlds. They suggested creative writing has ‘interesting possibilities as a low-cost intervention for those suffering from low-level anxiety and depressive disorders.’

A study by the University of Plymouth and Nottingham Trent University found that writing poetry can help people cope with loneliness or isolation and depression.(this link will open in a new window) Out of a survey of 400 people, just over half (51%) of respondents indicated that reading and writing poetry had helped them deal with feelings of loneliness or isolation, and for a further 50% it helped with feelings of anxiety and depression.

The Scandinavian Journal of Caring Sciences published a study in March 2021 that concluded that creative writing can support ‘human becoming and mental health’(this link will open in a new window) and that ‘caring professionals can create possibilities for human becoming in creating writing by enabling environments or spaces where writing is free from demands’.

Creative writing is also believed to have therapeutic benefits for patients in hospital. A Vancouver study published in 2023 study concluded that storytelling could help hospitalised patients recover from COVID-19(this link will open in a new window). The participants developed healthier relationships with their families and healthcare providers, as well as to support recovery, improve patient wellbeing and reduce isolation. From being overwhelmed, therapeutic storytelling helped them make sense of their condition.

An English study published in the December 2020 issue of Counselling and Psychotherapy Research explored how reading and writing could be a therapeutic experience for older adult participants(this link will open in a new window). It found that therapeutic creative writing groups offered a unique space for older adults to feel acknowledged, accepted, challenged and inspired.

And a study published in the Nursing Times in 2017 showed that a creative writing group in a nursing home in Scotland was beneficial to patients with dementia(this link will open in a new window), empowering them to be able to express themselves.

Creative writing can really make a big difference to your wellbeing, allowing you to process your thoughts and to be free to express yourself as you wish.

At Scottish Book Trust we offer an annual non-fiction writing opportunity, Scotland’s Stories, focused on true stories of lived experience. This project is for everyone, from burgeoning writers to those who have never written before. We believe everyone has a story worth telling and that telling a story can be a powerful, transformative experience. A selection of stories are published in a free book, distributed across the country during Book Week Scotland, 19–24 November 2024. This year’s theme is Hope – find out how you can take part by visiting our page About Scotland's Stories.