Change that leads to better lives

Mental Health in an Unequal World

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The theme of this year’s World Mental Health Day is Mental Health in an Unequal World. It aims to draw our attention to the reality that there is a relationship between inequalities in our society and the likelihood of experiencing poor mental health.

If this wasn’t enough, there are huge differences in the availability of mental health services and supports. Not only are some people more likely to experience mental health issues they will also struggle to access the help they need. A challenge that for some has been even greater during the Covid 19 pandemic.

The Equal Lives Team at NDTi are all too aware of mental wellbeing and the impact it has. For many communities we work with, who experience discrimination due to their age, disability or ethnicity, isolation is something that can have a significant impact. Findings from our evaluation of the Rural Wisdom work in Scotland and Wales found that issues of loneliness, isolation and vulnerability, were further exacerbated by measures to shield and isolate from family, friends and the wider community.

Similarly, social distancing measures place restrictions on access to social support networks which are a fundamental part of BAME communities’ infrastructure and culture. Beyond the data: Understanding the impact of COVID-19 on BAME groups from Public Health England notes that “Ethnic minority groups also face particular risks of social isolation and loneliness, linked to higher levels of deprivation and potential exclusion from structures and processes that promote social connectedness and a sense of belonging.”

Never has the building and maintaining of connections been so important. Keeping people in touch with things that are going on in their area is important and so too is the opportunity to shape what could happen in their communities after Covid by sharing their voices and thoughts with, local community councils and the Older People’s Commission in Wales.

“Through engagement events, local community councils and steering groups, older people are still having a voice and influencing change; the difference is that they now meet online.” (Rural Wisdom Evaluation: The value of connection, November 2020 )

Evidence from our Community Led Support programme that works with 27 local authorities shows how working differently can also help people feel less socially isolated and more connected with their community. Supporting people to maintain social connections, hope and purpose all help older people’s mental health.

As part of our work, Autistic people have shared with us their thoughts on what social connections mean to them and the impact that it can have on their mental health.

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There are many varied things that help us all to feel good. However, across all ages, there are common themes; wellbeing is positively related to the sense of purpose we feel, physical activity and our sense of connectedness to family, friends and colleagues. This is why we place a strong emphasis on social and community inclusion across all of our work.

On World Mental Health Day whilst we celebrate our contributions towards equal lives, we know many of the issues faced could have been prevented. Prevention doesn’t have to come in a system or service. As our work has shown us, it comes from connection with family friends and communities. Big changes in society take commitment from us all, by challenging inequality wherever it exists.

Authors: NDTi’s Equal Lives Team members: Shameem Nawaz, Paul Gutherson, Thomas Henley

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