Published: 08/12/2005 Volume 115 No. 5985 Page 34

Dr Roger Paxton leads the research and clinical effectiveness department at Newcastle, North Tyneside and Northumberland mental health trust.

Kate Daley was the trust's assistant psychologist and is now at Northgate and Prudhoe trust HSJ readers can access more information on this subject at www. goodmanagement. co. uk/ artsandculture

Research shos that arts projects are generally valued, but how do we know if they are doing any good? Evidence of mental health benefits is scarce, and research designs are not robust enough to allow for firm conclusions.

With this in mind, Newcastle, North Tyneside and Northumberland Mental Health trust developed an evaluation tool.

Earlier reviews recommended that projects make their goals specific, basing any evaluation on the attainment of these goals, so we incorporated this into the design of the tool. Given that the service user voice must be central to the evaluation, the tool was designed to capture feelings and experiences and to explore mental health benefits.

The outcome was a two-page evaluation form covering activities, goals, skills and enjoyable and helpful aspects of the service.

Although it could be used as a questionnaire, it is more appropriate for use in structured interviews with service users and staff.

In pilots, interviews were carried out with 51 services users and 12 staff, covering seven arts projects in the region from painting to pottery, creative writing to ceramics.

Arts activities also featured heavily as the most enjoyable aspect, but they were accompanied by more social issues such as meeting others and being in a relaxed, non-clinical environment where they felt they were not being judged.

The most frequently mentioned benefits were to self-confidence and self-esteem. Some users said the services had helped to reduce feelings of depression and anxiety.