World Mental Health Day 2021 takes place this weekend, with Cumbernauld Community Health Information Hub taking some time to consider the topic of mental health inequalities and what positive changes we can make as a society.
Established in 1992 by World Federation for Mental Health, World Mental Health Day, which is on Sunday 10 October 2021, is an international day for global mental health education, awareness and advocacy. The theme of World Mental Health Day 2021 is ‘mental health in an unequal world’.
We all have mental health and we all can experience mental health problems, whatever our background or walk of life. Nevertheless, it would be a misrepresentation to say that the risks of mental ill-health are equally distributed.
When contemplating inequalities, we often have connotations of social issues such as poverty and financial strain, racism, sexism, bullying, homelessness and social exclusion due to disability or age.
Yet discussions on the causes of mental health problems often focus on individual factors. Rarely does public discourse acknowledge that the circumstances in which we are born, raised and live profoundly affect our chances of having good mental health.
The reality is that the likelihood of our developing a mental health problem is influenced by our biological makeup and by the circumstances in which we are born, grow, live and age. Those who face the greatest disadvantages in life also face the greatest risks to their mental health. This unequal distribution of risk to our mental health is what we call mental health inequalities.
What is clear is that a range of circumstances interact with our individual risk of mental health issues and that many communities in Greater Cumbernauld face vulnerabilities in this context. Mary McNeil, Development Manager at Cornerstone House Centre, said:
“For too long, mental ill-health was overlooked, misunderstood, stigmatised and, for a long time, inappropriately treated. Much of this is now changing, although misunderstanding and stigma are not yet things of the past.
“As a society, we still have some way to go before the extent of mental health problems and their damage to our individual and collective wellbeing is fully recognised and comprehensively responded to.
“Any stigma or discrimination towards someone not only affects that person’s physical and mental health, it also affects their educational opportunities, current and future earning and job prospects and also affects their families and loved ones.
“That is why reducing mental health problems and their effects warrants the most urgent and committed public health effort of our generation. It is our belief that reducing social, economic, cultural and environmental inequalities will take us a long way towards achieving this goal.
“For a variety of reasons, some parts of Greater Cumbernauld have higher than average levels of poverty, social deprivation, health issues, disability, unemployment and crime. Undoubtedly, the scope of these issues has widened in recent times because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
“Cumbernauld Community Health Information Hub is a firm believer that addressing inequalities in such areas can help to decrease the prevalence of mental health problems. Hence, we are strong advocates of cross-sectoral action on mental health.
“By being active participants in our communities, articulating the desire to have resilient neighbourhoods and maintaining connection with our friends and families, we can all contribute to reducing the impact of social and economic inequalities.
“In this way, policies and interventions that support mental health can align with individuals’ aspirations and actions to bring about the resilient communities in which everyone can flourish equally.”
The factors that often fuel increased risk of mental health difficulties are wide-ranging and in many cases complex and deep-rooted in society. These include, to name just a few, residing in places with great divisions in income equality, living in poor-quality housing, adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), lack of education and having little access to green space.
Other aspects of social status can also trigger mental health problems in some instances. For example, being female, being from a minority background, having a disability or being from an LGBT+ community can enhance the possibility because of the negative impact of prejudice, discrimination and social exclusion.
The good news, however, is that it is possible to act, collectively and individually, to reduce inequalities and their mental health effects. By making even some small changes, we can succeed in improving the mental health of people living in Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and surrounding villages.
Socioeconomic inequalities are amenable to policy intervention, so action on these can lead to people having better mental health. Overall, further action is needed across government and communities, taking a ‘mental health in all policies’ and whole-community approach.
Progress could be made, for example, through all Community Planning Partners applying a ‘mental health lens’ to their policy areas. A joint approach from the public, voluntary and private sectors would certainly be advantageous in this respect.
One of the most powerful actions to be taken is to reduce poverty and income inequality. Building a culture in which people are less worried about their financial circumstances and more economically equal has the potential to reduce stress and anxiety, thereby also reducing the pressure on overstretched mental health services and increasing life satisfaction and work productivity.
WHAT ACTIVITY IS HAPPENING TO ADDRESS INEQUALITIES IN GREATER CUMBERNAULD?
There are several excellent organisations providing services across Greater Cumbernauld which play a major role in tackling inequalities, including Bethlehem House of Bread Food Bank, CACE Older People Active Lives, Cumbernauld and Kilsyth Citizens Advice Bureau, Cumbernauld Community Forum, Cumbernauld COVID-19 Support Group, Cumbernauld Poverty Action, Cumbernauld Resilience and The Trussell Trust.
Cornerstone House Centre itself is an advocate of helping the people of Cumbernauld to improve their mental health. Indeed, the organisation is a provider of free courses such as Living Life to the Full, an award-winning personal development programme which aims to support people experiencing low mood, depression and anxiety by using Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
Meanwhile, the organisation reported last month that Cumbernauld Family Hub and Cumbernauld Community Health Information Hub had teamed up with The Poverty Alliance as part of Get Heard Scotland to gather a wide range of voices and experiences of poverty to ensure that local and national responses to poverty reflect what is happening in communities. This activity is assisting Scottish Government’s work in developing a Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan for 2022-26.
Another local project which is making an impact in reducing inequalities is Cumbernauld CAN (Community Anchor Network). Centred around the principles identified within Scottish Government’s Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015, this initiative strives to enable Cumbernauld residents and organisations to work together to become better at responding to local needs.
Notably, the venture has been successful in distributing a total of £43,912 across 55 community organisations operating in Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and the Northern Corridor over the past 18 months through Participatory Budgeting (PB) schemes.
Earlier this year, North Lanarkshire Partnership (the local Community Planning Partnership) established nine new geographically-focussed Community Boards. This included the formation of Cumbernauld Community Board, Kilsyth Community Board and Northern Corridor Community Board.
The intention is for Community Boards to enhance and support community involvement by operating as democratic and accountable vehicles for local decision-making. A key objective of these Boards is to reduce inequalities in locality areas.
WHAT HELP IS AVAILABLE FOR THOSE IN CUMBERNAULD EXPERIENCING A MENTAL HEALTH ISSUE?
If you are feeling distressed, you can phone the charity Samaritans free of charge on 116 123 or email email@example.com. The telephone helpline is open at all times and the organisation aims to respond to emails within 24 hours. Alternatively, Breathing Space can be contacted on 0800 83 85 87.
If you are having suicidal thoughts, local organisations such as FAMS (Families Against Murder and Suicide) can be contacted 24 hours per day on 07736 326062 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, as can Chris’s House on 01236 766755 or via email at email@example.com.
Signposting to a mental health service suitable to you in the Lanarkshire area can be obtained by contacting Well-informed on 0800 073 0918 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Furthermore, a range of local mental health resources can be accessed by visiting the Elament website.
People living in Greater Cumbernauld struggling with their mental health can also access a range of online materials and supports through visiting the Lanarkshire Mind Matters website.
This digital platform, which is managed by NHS Lanarkshire’s Psychological Services, contains links to self-help resources for issues such as anxiety, depression and panic. It also includes free online courses and information about how to maintain mental and physical wellbeing.
So, as we reflect on a trajectory of increasing health, economic and social inequalities in society, let’s also to come together and act to highlight how inequality can be addressed to ensure people are able to enjoy good mental health.