The encounter between theatrical art, the fight against stigma, the social perception of mental illness and the search for innovation in the field of rehabilitation gave rise in 2008 to a coordination of theatrical experiences (laboratories, groups, companies) of the Departments of Mental Health of the Emilia Romagna Region. Through the mental health theatre it was possible to initiate an important cultural action that favoured the construction of common ground and co-planning between ‘health care’ and ‘cultural’. In 2016, with the signing of a protocol, renewed in 2020 for the duration of 4 years, a regional Coordination group for theatre and mental health activities has been established with the participation of representatives of theatre operators, mental health departments, the Gian Franco Minguzzi Institution, the Association of social promotion Art and Health, and of the Regional Department of Culture and the Regional Department of Health, main supporters, also financial, of the project.
The more than ten-year experience of the project that brings together 21 theatre companies born within 9 Departments of Mental Health of the Emilia Romagna Region and a network of 7 regional theatrical groups confirmed the theatre’s ability to act on “health determinants”, proposing as a good practice to improve the well-being of people and a powerful driver to activate processes of participation and creation of cultural welfare.
Several researches conducted in recent years by the Theatre and Mental Health Coordination have allowed us to deepen different aspects of change produced by the theatrical experience and to confirm the importance of theatre for the well-being of the actors /users of mental health services, as well as the community, helping to combat the stigma related to mental illness. This is also confirmed by a recent WHO research (2019) which highlighted the crucial role of the arts in the prevention and treatment of diseases and in promoting health.
Though the whole project and the theatrical activities that were performed could not be, strictly speaking, defined as Art-Therapy, nonetheless our experiences and researches confirm that is possible to consider theatre as an art capable of effective therapeutic tool, which develops empowerment, relationships, personal and professional skills.