Navigating Mental Wellbeing: Insights from Frontlines

by Emily Wells, Researcher

I started as a Researcher for the Centre for Social Justice just over two months ago and since then the Foundation team have put me in contact with several charities which exist to support those facing hardship in its various forms, and particularly those using mental wellbeing to do this. Having recently embarked on a project investigating the causes of the rise in mental health problems and what can be done to prevent them, input from the frontline is imperative in the initial phases of research. Last week I met with charities focused on both mental wellbeing and community cohesion across the North West and Yorkshire and I witnessed the power of the third sector in working to prevent and respond to mental health problems daily.  

On Tuesday we travelled to Ellesmere Port, near Chester, where we spoke with HealthBox CIC, a social enterprise working alongside three charities in the area to holistically support families and enhance the wellbeing of residents. We heard how they offer various services to prevent issues experienced by their service users becoming something more serious through creative wellbeing activities. We heard how family breakdown, social media, and trauma lead to mental health issues.

In Stockport we spoke to New Beginnings, a charity aiming to help those stuck in the child protection system, most likely having experienced trauma themselves. We were privileged enough to sit in on a session for mother’s who have been on the charity’s 24-week trauma and attachment programme which helps them break the cycle through 1:1 sessions, group work and through helping them interpret what they’re told by statutory services. This session was post-programme and demonstrated the charity’s continued commitment to their service users, with at least half of the group expressing how they would not feel empowered without support from New Beginnings.

On Thursday we travelled between Doncaster and Sheffield, visiting two charities focusing on different areas of wellbeing, but both aiming to enhance the lives of those they support. The first charity, Edlington Community Organisation (ECO), based in Edlington, Doncaster, provided extensive services to the local community, including daily activities, volunteering, and a food bank. We heard from the only two employees how they regularly work 60 hours a week because they can’t secure long-term funding to employ others, but simultaneously are requested by the community to extend their services. When people seek help from their GP for mental health, the waiting lists are so long that ECO can resolve their issue by the time they’re offered statutory support. We also heard how mental health issues have risen in line with increased isolation.

Following this visit, we travelled to Sheffield, where we met with Golddigger Trust, who equip children and young people with skills necessary to lead a positive life. We heard that there is a need for more wellbeing support as the narrative is currently around a clinical framework within the realm of mental health. We learned that many young people are increasingly being told that mental health is either diagnosable or not, but in reality, there’s a spectrum where most people experience varying levels of anxiety and depression. We heard how diagnosis can lead to young people seeing their problems as curable, or fixable, when in fact, life is difficult and learning to manage normal life stresses is important for wellbeing and leading a positive life.

These four charities, their impressive leaders and their service users have left me with a lot to reflect on and quite frankly, but positively, more questions. With contention over the reasons for the rise in mental health problems, it is no wonder there are obstacles in attempting to prevent issues. Is it caused by isolation? Is it social media? Is it trauma? Is it family breakdown? Is it overinterpreting normal life stresses?

The CSJF is vital in accessing those who are best suited to answering these questions and the next few months will undoubtedly lead to more discussion, and hopefully, answers, no matter how convoluted they may be.

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