By Sarah North
It’s time to take a new approach to mental health and wellbeing. This was the basis of the session led by Sarah Stewart-Brown, FPH’s Mental Health Committee Chair, with Ruth Hussey and Jude Stansfield co-presenting, and who made a clear case for embedding mental health and wellbeing within public health action.
Although patients and the public have always appreciated the link between mental and physical health, the health profession has been slower to accept that improving the first aspect could help prevent physical illness – ‘your body is your subconscious mind’. One alarming point made to support this, is that research has shown that an individual with a psychotic disorder could die up to 25 years earlier, compared to the average.
The session also looked at the comprehensive case study being undertaken in the North West of England, which involves working with patients, the public, and organisations, and looks at the various aspects of mental health and wellbeing affecting people’s lives.
Mental health and wellbeing is affected by many factors including environmental, social and ‘lifestyle’. It covers a range of aspects: self esteem and confidence, emotional wellbeing (eg. joy, happiness, vigour and energy, life satisfaction, optimism and sense of humour), agency autonomy, self-belief, motivation and self-care.
Promoting positive parenting was seen as important, as children’s formative years have a huge influence on their future mental and physical health and wellbeing. To support this, children and parents should have access to a variety of programmes, including school and workplace-based programmes, psychological therapies, and support for general lifestyle changes.
When mental health is discussed, it is normally in a negative way; and this needs to change to encourage a more positive dialogue which supports the promotion of good mental health, and positive individual and community approaches to environmental and social issues to create positive outcomes. Health inequalities were also an important consideration; where there is low educational standards, poverty, a disadvantaged environment, the incidence of a negative mental health outcome is higher.
If you improve the population’s mental health and wellbeing an improvement will be seen in the physical health of that population. This is a very important aspect of public health and must be recognised and acted upon, as this will affect the health of the population in the future. It’s a huge endeavour, but health professionals need to undertake a new approach and recognise the advantages of taking this forward.