Case Study: How MakeShift’s ReMind Program Heals Through Creativity
This community health organization works to lessen the impact of traumatic occupations by providing employees with a “creative first aid kit” of therapeutic activities.
Serving workers in New South Wales, Australia, community health organization MakeShift helps workers in traumatic areas through social and creative prescriptions. The organization’s ReMind program uses a creativity-focused approach to help employees with work-related trauma find creative habits to improve their mental health.
The ReMind program is an eight-week creative prescription program that partners with creative facilitators to lead evidence-based activities ranging from ukulele playing to sewing. The program also offers mindfulness activities, strength-based skills building and social connection. MakeShift also offers a four-week version of the ReMind program called Press Play, which many companies have used to boost creativity and well-being. As a result of the program, 78% of participating workers reported an increased ability to deal with problems and 75% experienced an improvement in their emotional awareness.
Build a foundation
Co-founders of Of FortuneCaitlin Marshall and Lizzie Rose, launched the ReMind program in collaboration with The identification crowd to help employees struggling with the effects of trauma and poor mental health. Prior to the ReMind program, MakeShift – then called Rumpus – was a community-based skills exchange initiative aimed at getting people to learn outside of work and connect with a community while developing skills. Eventually they noticed general practitioners and psychologists referring people to their courses, so they decided to combine their work in the community with over 15 years of experience in crisis support and mental health.
At the time, Marshall was working as a trauma and recovery trainer to staff in prisons and mental health facilities, as well as nurses and police. “A lot of these groups of people were really experiencing the effects of trauma because of the work they were doing,” Marshall says. “When the conversation turned to ‘what do you do to take care of yourself? What are you doing to handle this? There was a lot of silence. People didn’t understand that there are things they can do to feel better, things adults aren’t often encouraged to do anymore: have fun and be creative, Marshall added.
Along with a creative first aid kit, the program teaches how the brain works and how the nervous system responds to stress and traumatic events. “There are a lot of things we can do and control to manage ourselves and stay in a space where we can make good decisions about what we need,” Marshall says. “Being creative just puts us in a state of mindfulness, it does all that work that regulates us out of fight or flight, it helps to express things that we can’t say, it helps us to have hope. “
With long wait times to see a psychologist, it is essential for those working in traumatic professions to have a plan to manage the balance between personal well-being and the mental health effects of their work.
“An organization should have a plan,” adds Marshall. Program participants can use their NDIS funding to pay for the program to intervene and treat their mental health “before it reaches a point where they can’t work anymore,” Marshall says. At this point, MakeShift is working with workers’ compensation and return to work advocates on how to fund the program for more people who need it.
Before ReMind program participants receive their creative first aid kits with materials to paint, play and explore, they discover the benefits of creativity. They work to expose societal barriers by judging who can and should be creative.
“For a lot of people, the idea of getting creative is daunting and overwhelming and can be really difficult,” says Marshall. “Especially if you’re dealing with someone who is living with PTSD, it can trigger a lot of shallow ideas.” Workers need to understand the benefits of creativity for improving well-being, Marshall says.
The activities included in the Creative First Aid Kit are designed to harness the benefits of creativity on the nervous system and psychology to alleviate mental health issues. “We know that doing any type of sensory activity with our hands lowers our stress hormone, promotes serotonin production, and regulates the nervous system in one place just like physical exercise, just like meditation,” explains Marshall. The Creative First Aid Kit includes materials for activities such as painting, playing an instrument, gardening, cooking, ceramics and creative writing.
For people who can’t exercise or live with a disability or injury, the program aims to “open the door and say there’s actually a lot of other things we can do that don’t have to necessarily cost a lot of money, you don’t need to have a degree, and you don’t need to be mind-blowing,” says Marshall. “But you might need someone to kick you in and show you how to get started.” Many participants struggling with PTSD discover creative writing as a way to release and express emotions, Marshall added.
“Our goal is to reach people who think they’re not creative,” says Marshall. “We’re trying to untangle and disconnect the messy ways society tells people they’re not creative because we’re all inherently very creative. We are wired to be.
The program’s creative facilitators, each passionate about their craft, are trained in mental health and the research behind the benefits of creative activities.
“It’s very important to us not to work with artists who just show off because showing off to others doesn’t make other people feel good,” Marshall says. “If they can see someone’s struggling, they’re very encouraging,” says Marshall.
One participant even found himself ‘looking forward to Mondays’ because ‘having the structure, getting to know some people and having responsive facilitators was very helpful’.
Marshall says participants are often surprised by what they are able to accomplish. “We had a guy who was a cop who was so surprised to find out he really liked sewing that he did a second meditation,” she says. “He ended up connecting with his mother who is quite old and lives in another state. And they now use Skype every week and sew together.
To liberate oneself
The ReMind program has also helped combat loneliness which has only increased since the pandemic. “Most of our participants wouldn’t engage with another person most days of the week,” says Marshall. “And by the end of the program, they had daily connections with other people.”
Marshall says many attempts to get people out of isolation fail because it’s hard to make social connections when there’s no common interest; the ReMind program gives participants the tools to build both social connections and skills. After completing the program, 54% of participants reported having more social interactions.
Through their creative practices and education in wellness and emotional awareness, MakeShift’s ReMind program works successfully to reconnect psychologically injured workers to a state of trust. As a result, 58% of participants said they improved their self-confidence. “My confidence has definitely increased in simple tasks,” said one participant. “All of this allows me to help others and feel more valued as a person.”
As we move forward in the world of work, Marshall says that as a community as a whole, we need to recognize the reality of the human experience as something that requires flexible management and care for each person. . “It’s become very clear that mental health interventions need to expand much more into non-clinical interventions,” she says. “We really need to look at how people work and the role workplaces play in supporting people and creating mentally safe places.”