Relationships for Mental Health
by Johanna Frerichs
At the McPin Foundation, we’re gearing up for Mental Health Awareness Week, which provides an opportunity to join together to promote the importance of wellbeing and mental health for everyone, young or old. Mental Health Awareness Week 2016 takes place between 16th and 22nd May and the theme is ‘relationships’, because of the massive influence they have on our health and wellbeing.
Our research at McPin is organised into themes and one of these is called wellbeing and connectedness. With research evidence showing that positive relationships are key to physical and mental health, we are keen to explore how people use relationships to aid personal recovery, as well as how they can be problematic and hinder wellbeing. Examples of our work in this area include the Evaluation of a New Peer Support Programme and Evaluating Kent’s Wellbeing Programme.
Another piece of work we we’ve been involved in was in Hounslow, where we worked to address the specific issues faced by people with long-term mental health needs: social isolation and poor physical health. As one service user at a consultation event held in March 2015 put it:
“There is a lot of loneliness in mental health, loneliness and isolation.”
As part of this work, McPin helped co-produce the Hounslow Wellbeing Network that will launch shortly, supporting local people with mental health needs. It will place the relationship between staff and network members at the centre of all activities. The idea is for both therapeutic and peer relationships to flourish in a community-based approach that says “let’s connect and do”.
Importantly, this type of work is not happening in isolation. This week, we attended a talk to find out about a thriving organisation called Wellbeing Enterprises, based in Halton, Cheshire. For the last five years, Wellbeing Enterprises, have been on a mission ‘to help everyone be the best they can be’. They work alongside 19 GP practices to deliver wellbeing sessions and courses, allocate enterprise awards to start-up ideas and establish volunteer programmes. Through this, they are helping hundreds of people each month to set goals that improve their wellbeing by connecting with positive places and relationships.
Recently, McPin has become involved with another project, the Community Navigator study, which is very relevant to the theme of Mental Health Awareness Week. The study aims to improve social contact and reduce feelings of loneliness for people with persistent anxiety or depression. Though we may all experience loneliness from time to time, it can be a particular issue for people with mental health problems, affecting quality of life and recovery. The Community Navigator study will provide evidence about one way we might start to address this, and we are working with expert advisors in the local community to help us create a solution to best meet people’s needs. It is led by Professor Sonia Johnson and Dr Bryn Lloyd Evans at UCL Division of Psychiatry, and funded by the NIHR School of Social Care Research.
The start of research projects are always busy, and the Community Navigator Study is no exception. Part of the work has been recruiting ‘service user’ experts with experience of persistent depression and anxiety, alongside practitioners working in secondary mental health services who support this client group. We had many more applications for the working group from experts by experience than places, showing interest in this research topic on loneliness. We have formed a great team of advisors and our first two working group meetings are helping us to jointly develop a 10-week community navigator programme.
We asked members of our working group why they had got involved. Here are some reflections from a couple of experts by experience in the group:
“Healthy relationships are key to everyone’s mental wellbeing. Sometimes, traditional mental health ‘treatments’ don’t allow time to explore and address the other factors that are making a person feel isolated and lonely. Our communities often have rich untapped resources but that require some support to navigate. It is exciting to be involved in a project that is specifically working towards helping people to build social connections in a way that is meaningful to them.”
“I hope that our project will enable people like myself to begin to take their first steps forwards. For three years I struggled with agoraphobia, feeling frightened, alone and depressed, completely trapped in my isolation. One of my many hopes for our project is that we help more people like me to know that they are not alone.”
Another member of the group, working at Barnet, Enfield and Haringey (BEH) Mental Health Trust, said:
“At BEH we are delighted to be involved in this research project. Often loneliness is an issue under the radar of services despite the impact it can have on service users’ quality of life.”
How are relationships important for your wellbeing? Do you have any ideas about what our community navigator programme should involve? Get in touch with your thoughts as we would love to hear from you. You can also follow us on twitter @ucl_loneliness to receive all the latest news on the study.
At McPin we are all going to get in touch with someone we’ve not been in touch with for a while and ask how they are doing as our commitment to mental health awareness week. What will you be doing? Do let us know, we’d like to share your ideas for promoting mental health with others.