By Andy Bell
Last month, Centre for Mental Health, Kaleidoscope Health and Care, Public Health England and The King’s Fund concluded a series of events across the country in support of the Prevention Concordat for Better Mental Health.
Those events, reflected on in , helped to showcase the wide range of work going on in localities and communities nationwide to promote good mental health, prevent mental ill health and reduce inequalities. Some of the most promising initiatives will once again come together at .
They include some of the emerging local Thrive initiatives, stimulated by the ground-breaking Thrive NYC programme in New York City. Thrive West Midlands, for example, is working across the conurbation through the recently established Combined Authority using a blueprint produced by a commission chaired by Norman Lamb MP, with a focus on issues such as work, housing and justice for adults with mental health difficulties. Thrive Bristol by contrast is operating on a single City Council area with a focus on reducing inequalities and reaching out to schools, businesses and wider civil society. And in Lambeth, the Black Thrive initiative is led by members of the borough’s African and Caribbean community to address the mental health inequalities facing black men.
The Thrive movement, as it is becoming, offers an exciting new approach to public mental health, with a strong element of public engagement and a distinct emphasis on collective responsibility for improving mental health across a locality or region. For local authorities with the political commitment and vision to bring about long-term change, Thrive may in its many diverse forms provide a crucial framework for sustained effort in many more areas of the country, adapting as necessary to the needs, strengths and cultures of the communities it encounters.
The Thrive movement offers an exciting new approach to public mental health, with a strong element of public engagement and a distinct emphasis on collective responsibility for improving mental health across a locality
The conference will also explore work with specific communities to reduce some of the biggest and starkest mental health inequalities. They include the Up My Street initiative in Birmingham, recently , which worked hand in hand with African Caribbean community organisations to promote wellbeing among young black men. Supported by Mind, Up My Street showed the potential mental health benefits of arts-based, co-produced activities that celebrated black culture, that challenged stereotypes about black men and that offered a range of positive role models in a community that is too often denigrated in mainstream culture.
Investing in prevention initiatives to reduce mental health inequalities can be challenging for local councils facing repeated budget cuts and financial difficulties. Public mental health is only now getting anything like the attention it requires but at a time of significant budget constraints in public health services.
Public mental health is only now getting anything like the attention it requires but at a time of significant budget constraints in public health services.
What is heartening, however, is the willingness of many local authorities to take public mental health seriously, with elected members – many of them Mental Health Challenge member champions – often at the forefront of these efforts. Despite the difficulties they are facing, a growing number of local councils are exploring ways of protecting the wellbeing and resilience of their citizens and building mentally healthy communities.
This creates an important opportunity to determine what works in different contexts and to learn from the experience of innovative approaches. While there will doubtless be trial and error on the way, it is vital that we reach a point where it is accepted universally that there is no public health without public mental health, and where every public health service in every local authority makes mental health a priority for action.