England & Wales Health and social care

Viewpoint: Mind and body go hand in hand for well-being

With one in four of us experiencing mental health problems in any one year, it’s important to recognise that mental well-being is as important as physical well-being, says Tom Pollard.

We all have mental health just as we all have physical health, and it can fluctuate over time. When our mental health is consistently poor or symptoms like low mood keep returning, we may be diagnosed with a mental health problem such as depression or anxiety disorder.

The government has recognised the importance of treating mental health as equally important as physical health, and backed this up with greater investment in mental health services. This is great progress, but our mental health is also impacted by social factors, such as access to housing, benefits and debt advice, as well as loneliness, exclusion and isolation.

A recent survey of over 1,500 people by YouGov on behalf of Mind found that almost half (46 per cent) of people with mental health problems have considered or attempted suicide as a result of social factors such as debt, housing and welfare problems, or relationship breakdown, in the last two years. So it’s clear that social factors can have as much or an even greater impact than health-related factors on an individual’s worsening mental health, to such a degree that many are contemplating or taking steps to end their lives. Mind’s latest campaign ‘Life Support’ aims to highlight how community services such as housing support, and legal, debt and benefits advice really can be the difference between life and death. These services need to be protected and improved if people with mental health problems are to be supported to stay well and live a full life.

We know that difficult funding decisions have to be made, and those responsible for commissioning services need to be creative in how they allocate funds. A number of evidence-based, cost-effective services are being delivered by our network of 140 local Minds across England and Wales. One example is The Hub, an innovative Social Networking Service being delivered by Mind in Croydon. The types of support offered were developed in direct response to the needs of local people with mental health problems and include help with filling in forms, help with bills, debts and benefits, outreach support, practical advice, help with community issues (such as problem neighbours), help with understanding and managing physical and mental health problems, a place to have a meal in the company of others, somewhere to go to prevent loneliness and isolation, and something to do in the evenings and at weekends.

With the support of the local CCG and the local Health and Wellbeing Board, but with no additional funding, The Hub has been hugely successful in reducing social isolation and helping people stay well, as measured by reduction in GP appointments and hospital admissions between April 2014 and April 2015. People can be referred to the service from a range of health and social care professionals.

In the year prior to attending The Hub, the 256 people referred to the service had made 1,117 visits to their GP. At one year follow up this figure had reduced to 486 visits, equating to a financial saving of £28,395 (631 visits at £45 per visit). Similarly, in the year prior to attendance, there had been 42 hospital admissions, reducing to just three at the one year follow up, equivalent to a saving of over £400,000. The Hub has had great outcomes not only in terms of improving health and reducing isolation, but it’s saved a great deal of money too, at a time when purse strings are tighter than ever.

We need to see greater investment in services that understand and aim to tackle the many causes of poor mental health in communities, like those being delivered by Mind in Croydon. If we fail to address the underlying social issues which may have a bigger impact on people’s mental health than treatment or therapy, we undermine any improvements in health services we hope to see in coming years.

We’re keen to hear from councillors doing innovative work to meet the need for ‘life support’ and also from those that would like some support to develop or evaluate these type of services. Contact lifesupport@mind.org.uk.

Tom Pollard is Policy and Campaigns Manager at Mind.

This post first appeared in C’llr magazine June 2016.