In this guest blog for World Mental Health Day, Nicholas Campbell-Watts talks about a project helping to combat isolation in London.
Almost 40% of the adult population in Britain report high levels of anxiety and the percentage is even higher in London. In fact, an estimated 914,300 adults of working age in the capital are affected by a common mental health disorder such as anxiety or depression (Greater London Authority, 2014). City life can be very stressful – work stress and feelings of isolation contribute to the fact that in London close to £7.5 billion is spent on mental ill health each year.
Mental health support often fails to look beyond the health and social care needs that people present when accessing support – confirming for many people using mental health services that they are defined solely by the things that they cannot do for themselves.
At Certitude, we believe that focusing on people’s assets, strengths and skills enables them to play a pivotal role in their own health outcome. It also gives people the confidence to participate more widely in their local neighbourhoods and communities. Peer support is one of the approaches that has helped many people using mental health services to reframe the way that they think about their experience, so that their history of crises and recovery becomes an asset to draw on in helping other users and professionals and re-gaining positive self-esteem.
We have also learnt that although there is a genuine need for ‘formal’ peer support services, we believe it can and does occur naturally between people who are sharing common experiences and have an instinct to support each other. What many people have lost is the confidence and self-esteem to take that first step to connect with other people. Talking to those we support, it is clear that many people with mental health issues in London feel extremely isolated and lonely. Too often, people lose the confidence to go out, meet new people or try new things. They feel overwhelmed and daunted by the thought of stepping outside their comfort threshold. This in turn compounds their mental health needs.
There is growing evidence that people who have good active social networks live longer and happier lives, and individuals who are socially isolated are 2-5 times more likely than those who have strong social ties to die prematurely.
Recognising these challenges and our belief that the solution for many lies in strengthening their support base where they live rather than providing another formal structured service, we have developed an online social networking tool, Connect & Do. This enables people facing social isolation to find a range of local activities, hobbies and groups to suit their interests in the area where they live and where they can meet people with shared interests. Connect & Do matches people’s skills, talents and aspirations to other individuals, groups and opportunities in their local communities. Long-term social relationships are particularly important for mental wellbeing, and these are generally formed when there are shared interests such as family ties, work, neighbourhood or leisure and recreational activities.
By building links between people and local community resources, our aim is to assist natural support networks, and enable people to develop and build their own solutions. Strengthening people’s coping mechanisms, and their ability to recognise difficulties, seek help early and withstand crisis, also reduces the demand and over-reliance on formal health and social care services.
The success of Connect & Do is proving that there is a real need for this support. One hundred organisations have so far signed up to the tool, and we’ve had more than 3,000 visits to the site. We’ve supported 141 people in first 12 months, with some 80% telling us that they felt more supported, and 87% said they felt increasingly independent. As we expand the service to include 6 boroughs in London – Lambeth, Southwark, Bromley, Ealing, Hounslow and Brent – we hope more people with mental health issues will build their own support networks and be part of the solution to their health needs.
Greater London Authority (2014) The London Mental Health Report. London: GLA. Available at: www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/FINAL%20-%20LMH%20-Full%20Report.pdf
Nicholas Campbell-Watts is director of mental health at Certitude
Certitude is a not-for-profit social care organisation which provides personalised support to people with learning disabilities and mental health needs across London: www.certitude.org.uk