Mental Health Awareness Week 2018

By Merlyn Taylor

This Mental Health Week there has been a lot of activity aiming to make people consider their own mental wellbeing and the wellbeing of others. From guidance on London Underground signs, to massage therapy being offered at workplaces, there’s been a wealth of activity aiming to make people feel better about themselves. The main organisation behind Mental Health Awareness Week, the Mental Health Foundation (MHF) has chosen to use this year to focus on one of the biggest contributors to poor mental health: Stress. At London Community Foundation we work with many organisations who tackle stressful situation that are unique to their communities and groups, such as refugees and carers. While stress is something we all face, it’s important to remember what works for one community isn’t necessarily appropriate for another. 

London Underground
@allontheboard, Twitter

While most people will see it as that slight sense of panic, that maybe you won’t get to that meeting or finish that report in time, MHF define it as the cumulative impact of dozens of these nervous occurrences. Each time you sense that your credibility or reputation is at risk, your body reacts to this perceived ‘threat’ by releasing hormones that trigger a ‘fight or flight’ response in your body. While this increases your focus and stamina to work harder and longer hours, the impact of successive responses, leads to physiological wear and tear that can leave you feeling like you’re in a permanent state of ‘fight or flight’. This sense of feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope is what MHF refer to as stress.

Stress is our body’s response to pressures from a situation or life event. Mental Health Foundation, Stress: Are We Coping?, 2018

After conducting research on 4,169 adults, MHF found that 3 out of 4 adults admitted they’d suffered this sense of being unable to cope over the past 12 months.  They found that younger people (18-24 years of age) we more likely to feel stress, due to housing worries, pressure to succeed and social expectation. Additionally people living in deprivation and those who are from ethnic minorities are even  more susceptible to stress due to greater exposure to more traumatic and stressful life events.

Extreme stressful situations, like losing a loved one or dealing with abuse, have a big impact on our ability to cope with additional pressure, particularly when these traumatic events happen in childhood. While an individual’s ability to cope with stress is down to numerous factors, such as genetics and up-bringing, these negative life events can leave people more susceptible and at risk of developing depression.

“The experience of stressful life events has been found to be associated with depressive symptoms and the onset of major depression, as well as suicide, suicidal thoughts and self-harm.” Mental Health Foundation, Stress: Are We Coping?, 2018

The recommendations of  MFH’s report, Stress: Are We Coping?, it refers to the importance of forging links between healthcare professionals and community and voluntary organisations who offer wellbeing initiatives, such as walking, gardening and exercise classes. This draws parallels with the report we launched earlier in the year, Keeping it Together, highlighting the important work of community groups in tackling mental health in our community.

Some communities in London have a distrust of public services and a misunderstanding of how stress can cause mental illness. One organisation we spoke to as a part of our research, Mosaic Community Trust, developed a programme that encourages local women from ethnic minority communities to learn more about mental health and ways to tackle stress, including providing Indian head massages. These ‘Wellbeing Champions’ can then return to their communities to offer stress relief to women within their community, who may feel unable to access public services, due to mistrust or societal pressure.

Having a multi-tiered approach to stress and mental health for London’s diverse community is essential to ensure everyone has access to support.  With small groups the support comes from leaders within the community and therapy can be accessed more readily and tailored to the individual. With austerity continuing to cut funding for support services, support for these front line services are critical, if we’re to prevent prevalence of stress within our society.