Hope for the Future: How Our Creative First Aid program transformed people's lives

People with psychological work injury

"I don't feel so depressed anymore. This has given me small reasons to get up, to water my plants, do my writing. It's a few small things, and they have changed everything"

Here's a little story about a guy called David* who we met running our 8 week ReMind: Creativity on Prescription Program:

When we met David, his life as a police officer had come to an end, he felt anxious in new environments and around new people, and had little exposure to creative practices. David describes himself as coming from “a factual black and white world” and “had no knowledge [of creative activities].”

 In his recovery journey after being diagnosed with PTSD and unable to work, he found that a combination of various activities, including therapy, gardening, going to the gym and exploring new creative practices was helpful. “I needed to do a little bit of everything.”

So he found the variety of topics on offer in the program really resonated with him. That’s just because MakeShift’s program was pretty diverse in its topics.”

 David’s concentration and planning skills had been impacted so found it helpful that the program materials came organised. “Yeah it was like, you know, receiving a gift, with all these different presents inside... It was there in front of you and the accessibility to those materials just made life easier.


For David, the program “was something to look forward to each week.” He enjoyed being able to share with others what he was doing during the program. “I used to tell people what I’d done last week and what I was doing next week,9 times out of 10 people say ‘How good is that?’.”

David found that the program gave him confidence in trying new things, exposed him to working in a positive safe group environment and boosted his self-belief. He found himself at a crossroads between an old and new life and found building up confidence in trying new things particularly important. He found “being introduced to new things gave me that confidence to at least explore a bit further.”

 He enjoyed working in a positive environment and connecting with people in a similar position. “I seem to thrive in positive environments.” David was able to connect easily with others in the group. “I never felt alone, I guess. There's people going through the same sort of thing as me, so we were able to connect pretty easy.

 As he explored new creative activities and learnt about them he found that it also boosted his confidence. “It certainly boosted my self-belief in myself” For someone with no background in the arts of creative, David was surprised by how much enjoyed and connected with the program. “Probably the biggest surprise was my level of enthusiasm… I had no knowledge because I never had the exposure to it or anything like that and I guess that was the biggest surprise was how well I connected with it.”

 Not having been exposed to creative activities, David describes the program as an awakening for him. “The MakeShift program was a bit of a turning point to say, ‘You know what, this is a good activity. It will create new creative pathways for you and then it's up to yourself if you wish to explore that further.’” As the primary caretaker for his household, David found the cooking workshop helped to improve his confidence in cooking and he now enjoys the satisfaction of being able to provide for his family. It’s “a bit of reward in being able to provide to my family...a nourishing meal which… when I see the satisfaction of that, it sort of gave me a bit of a personal reward.”

Through the program he found that he was able to overcome past habits of putting everyone else ahead of himself, and instead focus on self care. “It taught me a few different skills like to not feel guilty about selfcare.” After the program David found himself able to take on bigger challenges. Prior to the course, being around large crowds was not possible for him, but after the program he was able to take a trip to Melbourne and appreciate the works at the National Gallery of Victoria. “I've gained greater appreciation for the art… and how people went about creating the works.” David considers himself lucky that his insurer was able to put him onto the program and hopes more people in his position are able to join programs like this. I’d like to see more referrals for people that might be doing tough out there.”

Over the past 2 and a bit years, MakeShift has been rolling out a pilot project in partnership with icare NSW Foundation, to engage and support people psychologically injured through work, and currently on compensation claims as a result.

The outcome of this project has been ReMind: Creativity on Prescription 8 week program, designed to take people on an exploratory journey through a series of creative practices that we know can make a difference to how we feel, how we play, and how we live.

“It just made me feel not so alone with the depression and the anxiety I've got. I feel happier and feel like I am going to get my life back.”
  • Online participant

While the program was designed to be face-to-face, we had to think quick when a global pandemic reached our shores. The work to figure out how to give a group of people opportunity, materials, time and space to try out planting things in the ground, using paints and brushes, learning the ukulele, connecting to nature, stitching mindfully and writing for fun was definitely a head-scratcher. Thankfully we had the chance to collaborate with the amazing folks at The ID Crowd who helped us map out a carefully considered, thoughtful and authentic online experience. They did such a beautiful job, that together we won 2 Gold Brandon Hall Awards for Best Innovative Learning and Development program, and Best Use of Social/Collaborative Learning!

We now ship a giant box of goodies to people, with a ukulele, paints, journal, voucher to buy plants, and all sorts of wonderful goodies.

"Getting the box of materials is like Christmas! It was a wonderful day when this turned up on my doorstep"

Programs like this are a little outside the box, and so proving that what we do makes a difference is important. We worked with Dr Pippa Burns, Chase Sewell and, with Ethics Approval from the University of Wollongong, asked the people in our programs what worked, what made a difference, what changed.

And how did we go?

Here's a few headlines:

Participants scored their overall physical and mental health significantly higher after completing the program (both on the SWEMWBS and in the Modified EQ-5D-3L) than at baseline.

The % of participants who considered themselves “Extremely anxious or depressed” decreased from 36% to 22% (from 10 out of 28 respondents to 4 participants out of 18 respondents)

“I feel more helpful about the future”

75% of ReMind program participants

“I feel more confident”

58% of ReMind program participants

Prior to intervention, the average participant score on thePHQ-9 was consistent with moderately severe depression. At the conclusion of the program, this had improved to the moderate category for depressive symptoms. This effect was statistically reliable and is likely to replicate in a broader population.


This evaluation report is exciting, in being able to add to the growing body of research and evidence that shows that creativity makes a difference. It is a powerful, simple, effective practice in promoting things like mindfulness, feeling purposeful, shifting identity, getting out of a rut, expression ourselves in ways that words can't, and not only that, but it also interacts with our brain, body, and nervous system, doing things to calm, regulate and promote feeling good.

You can read the full Pilot Evaluation Report here

ReMind is taking enrolments now for our February/March intake, starting February 10th and running for 8 weeks 10am-1pm

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People with psychological work injury
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