Over the past few years, the conversation around mental health across the world has changed. More and more people are choosing to share their personal experiences, including high profile people such as Prince William or Little Mix singer Jesy Nelson, resulting in the stigma surrounding mental health illnesses being challenged or even broken down. There’s more of an understanding that illnesses that affect our mental health are just as serious as physical ones and that they indiscriminately impact around a quarter of the UK’s population.
With this shift, we are seeing the status quo for how we treat mental health wellbeing challenged. Movements and even individuals are demanding a dialogue when it comes to how and what kind of care is given and highlighting the impact structural factors, such as funding and laws, have on our mental wellbeing. Harnessing new technology has opened up the possibility of tracking and monitoring your own health, helping to tailor treatment to personal needs.
So on World Mental Health Day, we’d like to showcase some of our work that is pushing boundaries and changing perspectives when it comes to treating mental health. Everything from innovative tech to activists speaking up about important issues to genuine co-production of services, we’re excited to be working with those shaping how we talk and care for our mental wellbeing in the future.
Since April this year, we have been working with seven social movements all aiming to put people at the centre of decision making in health and care. To some extent, all of the movements are campaigning around issues of mental health. And, there is some evidence that activism has a beneficial impact on health and wellbeing.
A couple of the movements are focused on changing mental health provision, highlighting inequalities and challenging poor provision. We’re working with the Mental Health Rights Movement in Northern Ireland, who are activists with lived experience of mental ill health and people who have been bereaved through suicide, planning a range of actions to shift the narrative across the country. Northern Ireland has one of the highest suicide rates in Europe and yet a lower spend per head on mental health than anywhere else in the UK. On World Mental Health Day they will be joined by UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health, Dainius Púras, to shine a light on the challenges people are facing in accessing effective care and support.
We’re also working with The Movement for Social Approaches in Mental Health, a grassroots campaign working to change mental health systems to focus more on tackling social inequalities and trauma, promoting self-determination, social support and rights. An alliance of people with lived experience and health and care practitioners, they are gathering momentum around challenging the structural causes of mental ill health.
Nesta has accurately predicted the rise of new technologies in supporting mental wellbeing. Most recently, we wrote about the reasons to be optimistic about the rise of mental health technologies, as well as highlighting the current drawbacks in the technology available.
Over the last year, we have been actively encouraging the development of digital health technologies in Scotland through the Healthier Lives Data Fund. Many of the grantees are looking at ways to give more control to those living with long-term conditions and as a result, are helping to improve the mental wellbeing of an individual. Managing your own care or that of a loved one can help to minimise the heightened stress and anxiety that often comes with being unwell.
For example, Pharmatics are developing artificial intelligence-driven software (CareAI) to help individuals living with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) to manage their condition with more control. It will help them to accurately predict when they will be likely to have an exacerbation, and how they will be feeling the next day. They hope this will help to minimise the heightened anxiety levels that are commonly experienced by people living with this condition.
CogniCare are another example, helping families of those with dementia who are often left to navigate the care system on their own, not knowing what to do, where to go or who to trust. This often leads to high levels of stress and anxiety. They are addressing this head-on and have created a one-stop platform for people looking after someone with dementia that uses AI to personalise solutions, enabling early intervention and even preventative care.
Technology has the power to help those living with long term conditions feel more in control and better about their care and we’re excited to see what the future holds for all our grantees.
This year has also seen the People Powered Results team at Nesta working on a 100 Day Challenge focusing solely on mental health for the first time. The Challenge sought to improve mental health and wellbeing for children and young people in Midlothian, involving 42 team members from 19 different organisations, including schools, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), and numerous others from the statutory, voluntary, and community sectors. All working together in new ways to listen and respond to what children, young people, families and carers need.
The teams achieved a lot in such a small amount of time. One team, who wanted to help young people moving from secondary school to college, gathered insights from over 150 pupils to make sure their ideas would be of benefit. This resulted in 100 trusted adults being trained in Mental Health First Aid so young people know who to ask for support from when they need it.
Another team asked one class of pupils aged 9-10 what they thought would make their classroom more likely to improve their wellbeing, then encouraged them to lead on redesigning it themselves. Giving children the opportunity to bring their ideas to life was a move away from ‘business as usual’, and helped them have a genuine say in shaping their learning environment. The classroom now has a designated quiet space, and 26 pupils created their own personalised emotional wellbeing toolboxes.
In total, 175 children, young people, families and carers were involved in Midlothian’s 100 Day Challenge and the experience has set a precedent for this to continue, so that people with lived experience are helping shape the programmes and services that affect them.
If you want to find out more about the work of Nesta’s Health Lab click here.