Mental health network

Let’s talk depression and open up a wider conversation about wellbeing | Samantha Jones

Samantha Jones

On World Health Day, Samantha Jones shines a light on how new care model vanguards are focusing on health in a more holistic way than ever before.

Each year World Health Day presents an opportunity for us to focus on issues that affect the health of people across the globe. This year’s campaign, with its theme of depression, enables us to explore the interdependencies between mental and physical health, and to look at what health and wellbeing really means.

Depression and other common mental health problems don’t exist in isolation; they are just part of what makes up our overall health and wellbeing. The risk of becoming depressed is increased by factors such as poverty, unemployment, life events, such as the death of a loved one or a relationship break-up, physical illness and problems caused by alcohol and drug use.

This is why so many of the vanguards in the new care models programme have been working to focus on health in a much more holistic way than ever before.

As the team from Better Care Together (Morecambe Bay Health Community) vanguard (@BCTMorecambeBay) puts it: “being healthy is much more complex than just physical health alone; it also includes mental, social and systemic health”.

Our health and wellbeing is not determined simply by individual factors, so we must all work together to improve it – and this vanguard has put involving communities, listening to patients and preventing people from getting ill in the first place at the heart of its work.

As part of the vanguard’s Let’s Get Moving project involving local schools, around 1,500 children are now running a mile a day or taking part in an alternative form of exercise. These children are reaping the mental and physical benefits of regular exercise while also learning at a young age how to take control of their own health. Parents and teachers are reporting improvements in sleep, concentration levels and behaviour in the classroom – all important factors that can impact on a child’s future.

Community is key
Providing easy-to-access support in the community is a key means of improving overall health and wellbeing, and is being reflected across all the vanguards. For example, a new ‘Time Out’ café for people with mental health problems – introduced by North East Hampshire and Farnham vanguard – has helped reduce acute psychiatric admissions locally by 33 per cent. 

By popping in to the café in Aldershot, service users can receive support when they are in crisis, access community information on mental health and wellbeing, learn self-management skills, receive peer support and feel more integrated with their local community.

Social isolation and loneliness are known to have a significant impact on health and wellbeing so creating better community links can make a real difference, especially for vulnerable older people.

Thanks to the work of the Connecting Care Wakefield District vanguard (@NHSVanguardWake), care homes are now helping residents to form social relationships and networks at home and to get out into their local community for activities like health walks. They are also inviting the community in – with visits from a church choir, intergenerational work with schools and local people bringing in their dogs.

Through talking to residents and their families about what really matters to them, the vanguard is helping residents interact with and feel connected to their local community.

Filling the health and wellbeing gap
All this work is addressing a key issue highlighted in the NHS Five Year Forward View – the health and wellbeing gap. The report states that if we fail to get serious about prevention then recent progress in healthy life expectancies will stall, health inequalities will widen, and our ability to fund beneficial new treatments will be crowded-out by the need to spend billions of pounds on wholly avoidable illness.

Two-and-a-half years on, the NHS has just published its Next steps on the Five Year Forward View. The plan spells out what has been achieved and the changes which will take place across the health service in key areas. It sets out how it will deliver practical improvements in areas prized by patients and the public – cancer, mental health and GP access – while transforming the way that care is delivered to ease pressure on hospitals by helping frail and older people live healthier, more independent lives.

So for this campaign centred on Depression: let’s talk, let’s not just support conversations between affected individuals and their families, friends or health professionals; let’s have a wider discussion about how we can all work together better to make a difference to everyone’s health and wellbeing.

Samantha Jones is director of NHS England’s New Care Models Programme. Follow her on twitter @SamanthaJNHS.  

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