Arts, mental distress, mental health functioning & life satisfaction: fixed-effects analyses of a nationally-representative panel study

Publication type

Journal Article


Publication date

February 11, 2020


Arts engagement within communities is ubiquitous across cultures globally and previous research has suggested its benefits for mental health and wellbeing. However, it remains unclear whether these benefits are driven by arts engagement itself or by important confounders such as socio-economic status (SES), childhood arts engagement, previous mental health, personality, or self-selection bias. The aim of this study is to use fixed effects models that account for unidentified time-constant confounding measures to examine the longitudinal association between arts (frequency of both arts participation and cultural attendance), mental distress, mental health functioning and life satisfaction.
Data from 23,660 individuals (with a mean age of 47 years) included in the UK Understanding Society wave 2 (2010–2012) and wave 5 (2013–2015) were analyzed. Aside from controlling for all time-constant variables using fixed-effects models, we additionally adjusted for time-varying demographic factors (e.g. age and marital status), health behaviors and social support variables.
After controlling for all time-constant variables and identified time-varying confounders, frequent arts participation and cultural attendance were associated with lower levels of mental distress and higher levels of life satisfaction, with arts participation additionally associated with better mental health functioning. Health-related and social time-varying factors were shown partly but not wholly to explain the observed associations.
Arts engagement amongst the population as a whole may help enhance positive mental health and life satisfaction, and protect against mental distress. These results are independent of a wide range of time-constant confounding factors.

Published in

BMC Public Health


Volume: 20:208






Open Access

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.



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