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Lost Connections – The Raise of Mental Health

Time for Change and Every Mind Matters are just two of the recent campaign slogans designed to raise awareness of mental health issues in the UK. More recently, the broadcaster ITV featured a campaign Britain Get Talking encouraging families to get closer and to highlight that anxiety and depression in children have risen by 48% since 2004. 

While the increased spotlight on mental health is to be welcomed, it’s fair to say the necessary funding to provide services has not provided to the same extent. Indeed, there seems to be even less exploration of why there has been such an increase in mental health issues, especially amongst the young.

"IYG has gone on to make a significant impact on many people's lives, my own journey has been truly amazing, it helped me improve my physical, mental, emotional and social wellbeing."

1. There have been moves to address the disparity between physical and mental health  services provision.
Here on Merseyside, MerseyCare NHS Foundation Trust is the leading provider of mental health services.They deliver a wide range of free Recovery College courses at facilities called The Life Rooms, the main one being on Rice Lane, Walton. The courses are aimed at giving the person the ability to manage and overcome their symptoms, and the approach has been recognised nationally.

You can refer yourself to the Life Rooms, and access courses such as overcoming anxiety or arts themed courses. All of the courses are led by either professionals or those with lived experience, and the Life Rooms itself is a welcoming environment.
The thinking behind the Life Rooms is based on the fact that many people experiencing a mental health problem will suffer from a feeling of isolation, and may withdraw from life. The main drawback with this approach, and those of the campaigns like Time for Change, is overcoming the stigma of talking openly about the issue you are experiencing early enough to access help.

2. At this point, is it possible to suggest a link between a decline in local communities’ ability to socialise together, and the rise in mental health issues? Many places which brought people together are now gone, and at the same time we can access the internet 24/7 to shop and follow news from all over the world. Are communities as resilient as they once were? When family, friends and neighbours assumed the role of counsellors? Pubs and social clubs are closing across the country.

One organisation close to home that has put itself front and centre in an attempt to address this is Everton In The Community charity. Founded in 1988 by Everton Football Club, the charity does amazing work to improve the life chances of communities across Merseyside.
One of their programs is called Imagine Your Goals. Aimed at men, there are football sessions across Merseyside every week where men can come together to socialise while playing football. The program has won international awards, and every year hosts a cup style competition on World Mental Health Day.

The IYG program prides itself in bringing the players together to reduce their social isolation and provide a positive experience that enables them to overcome their mental health issues.
Indeed, one participant has recently started his own football program called Liverpool Football Therapy. Colin Dolan had this to say about the IYG program.

“IYG has gone on to make a significant impact on many people’s lives, my own journey has been truly amazing, it helped me improve my physical, mental, emotional and social wellbeing. At 47 I never imagined such a change in my life. I would go as far as saying that the program, and the people involved with it from facilitators, coaches and the participants have played a huge part in saving my life. I have learned to cope with my bipolar, and have gone on to experience some wonderful times, I have achieved so much and met so many wonderful people. I and my family will be forever grateful to Everton in the Community.”

“I launched the Liverpool Football Therapy project to basically expand on what IYG was doing, I wanted to give an opportunity to those who cannot get to football sessions during the day to have a similar experience to what I and so many others were benefiting from, I wanted to reach out to the people who had not yet been diagnosed or not in use of Mersey Care services. We regularly signpost participants to other services throughout the city that have worked for others too. The bond between participants is truly amazing because everyone respects the fact that all others involved have been on similar journeys, together we help each other on and off the pitch, football can and does save lives, football creates new friendships and gives so many an opportunity for recovery or continue with ongoing therapy.”

Programs such as these offer a way of helping people to manage their mental health. However, there is still the problem of recognising when someone is beginning to experience a mental health issue, and providing the adequate response. Could a community led focus on mental health issues help to signpost people to services quicker and nip problems in the bud? Are employers only paying lip service to the many campaigns around at the moment focusing on mental health?
One thing is for certain. We live in a much more fast paced, stressful society that would seem to have forgotten that people need to feel like they belong to feel content. Luckily here on Merseyside we still have many close knit communities and a general sense that people look out for one another.
If the service providers could tap into that, and push employers to value their employees’ mental health at the same time, that would be a massive step towards destigmatising mental health, and merely seeing it as something that requires the same approach as a physical check up at the GP’s.