For Mental Health Awareness Week 2020, our Founder Dr Kathy Adcock gives her views on the 5 areas for action in mental health and emotional wellbeing.
It is really positive that the conversation about mental health and emotional wellbeing has become so much more visible in the last few months and years. I have been working in the NHS in mental health for over 15 years now and there has been a real shift in the narrative over that time.
The progress that I have noticed and valued is:
• People being open about their own lived experience of mental health difficulties, and those voices beginning to be heard and valued by others.
• A shift in emphasis to co-production. Co-production is when the people who are likely to use a service are involved in a meaningful way in the development of that service. It makes sense, so that we build services that are more likely to be experienced as helpful to the people who they are built for.
• A move to thinking about how intervention services can be taken outside of a clinic and integrated into other domains, to address emotional wellbeing and reach a broader range of young people. This is what we lead on at In Your Corner, where we use psychologically informed non-contact boxing in accessible community locations to support emotional wellbeing in young people who are often excluded from other services and opportunities.
But what next? Despite this shift there’s so much more work to be done. So, these are my top 5 areas for action to keep mental health support for young people moving and developing.
1. Awareness is not enough. We need action.
Mental health awareness is the very beginning of any conversation or response to emotional wellbeing. A culture where people feel able to talk about emotional wellbeing is just the foundation for any meaningful work. So, for me, we have had enough calls for awareness now, so let’s begin the real work. No more light responses about having a chat and normalising struggles, but really getting to grips with a response that supports people to develop a real understanding of what impacts on our mental health and what we can do about it as a society to improve everyone’s emotional wellbeing, and to support those who need more specialist help.
2. Our society is unequal. This is a major threat to our emotional wellbeing.
My understanding of distress and mental health difficulties is located in social inequalities. And by that, I mean that young people who experience social exclusion and adversity such as exclusion from school, poor housing, community violence, financial difficulties, witness domestic violence, experience abuse at home, experience racism or hate crime – are far more likely to present with emotional wellbeing difficulties. So if we’re serious about mental health, we have to be serious about addressing these factors as a society, and to address the structural inequalities in all our communities and our institutions that perpetuate these difficulties. There’s good evidence that living
in an unequal society is bad for everyone’s emotional wellbeing, even if you are on the privileged side of the divide. We cannot locate mental health in the individual. We must look to our context to help people feel better.
3. We need to fund mental health services adequately.
In a context of austerity and chronic underfunding of children and young people’s mental health services, it’s understandable that many young people and families feel they haven’t been able to access a service when they need it. We need to go beyond being aware of mental health, to actually committing to what it takes to fund services that can support young people, when they need it. We need to shout out to our leaders, locally and nationally, and ensure that these services don’t just scrape by, but have the investment to innovate and develop creative and effective new ways of working.
4. Let’s structure societal systems and environments so that wellbeing is supported and it’s not such a struggle to feel ok.
Currently, my view is what is lacking in schools and communities is a focus on emotional wellbeing to be considered as a core part of all actions and developments. By this I mean, considering what really makes us feel better every day, and how can this be built in to our days, every day. For me, the key is connection. When we feel connected and like we belong with our families, friends, and communities, real emotional wellbeing begins. I am also a firm believer in moving our bodies and the power of the built environment to affect our emotional wellbeing. Initiatives like the Daily Mile are simple and demonstrate how a small change can be a powerful way to build emotional wellbeing into every day. How we gain access to green space and nature daily is also important, so let’s consider our systems, routines and environments.
5. It’s time for workers from diverse backgrounds to be welcomed into the helping professions.
You cannot be what you cannot see! And, you might find it harder to trust a mental health service where most of the staff don’t look very much like you. Child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) has a terrible reputation for being a service with staff that aren’t very diverse. If we want young people to feel at home accessing help, we need to do everything we can to welcome and support people from a range of backgrounds to train and progress in mental health careers. I’m talking people with different races, ethnicities, classes, sexualities, and lived experience of mental
health difficulties. We need to help all kinds of people feel like they have a home in the helping professions, so that young people can see people like them, who can attempt to understand them and be some help with their distress.
You can let us know what you think by getting in contact or sending us a message on social media (@iycboxing).