Mental health problems affect millions of people in the UK, devastating lives and causing huge levels of distress. The rates of mental ill health are rising every year, and the issue is finally starting to be acknowledged as one of the most endemic challenges facing our society.
Mental health problems are often conceived as the personal problems of individuals. The collective and social dimensions of mental health are often overlooked – even though stigma and discrimination around mental health (the sense of being ‘outside’ society) is frequently described by those with lived experience as one of the most challenging aspects of being unwell.
However, these social and collective dimensions can hold a crucial part of the solution. We know that the context of people’s lives is pivotal to their mental health – culture, identity, social networks, employment and patterns of disadvantage are a major influence whether or not people become unwell. Medical professionals, therapists, social workers and other mental health practitioners play a vital role in supporting individuals who are struggling with their mental health. But there are broader opportunities for all of us. The ways we live collectively as a society – the ways we engage and relate to each other – can also be crucial to helping us to recover and defend ourselves against threats to our mental health.
This is something that sensitive practitioners within the mental health sector have known for many years. The most popular framework that professionals use for thinking about mental health is the ‘biopsychosocial’ model, which describes mental health problems as a combination of biological, psychological and social factors. The professions are diverse and individual practitioners hold a range of views. However, the ‘bio’ bit of the ‘biopsychosocial’ model has a hub for advancement and debate through the psychiatry profession; and the ‘psycho’ bit has a hub through psychological and therapeutic communities. There is no comparable hub for exploring the social and collective dimensions of mental health, which are necessarily underpinned by a much wider range of knowledge and expertise – including (and especially) the expertise of those with lived experience of mental health problems.
There is therefore a role for an agency to unlock the potential of social and collective approaches to mental health. The Mental Health Collective fills this gap.