Good mental health underpins our individual and collective wellbeing
You’ll have seen it, perched on cliff tops next to the ancient Tynemouth Priory, the Tynemouth coastguard station. Decommissioned twenty years ago, it’s stood empty since. Now, thanks to the work of local women’s veterans’ organisation, Salute Her, a new life as a wellbeing centre for women veterans could be on the horizon.
Paula from Salute Her gave me a tour of the building. We met with staff from English Heritage, the custodians of the site, and Sir Alan Campbell, MP for Tynemouth.
Paula’s vision is for a Health & Wellbeing Centre for women veterans. Its history both as a place of sanctuary makes it an ideal location. It’s a safe, women-only space, where veterans will get help with mental health issues and trauma resulting from military service. It will be a first not just for the region, but nationally. It’s early days for the project but I’m keen to help make it become a reality.
Innovation in addressing mental health needs is the hallmark of another mental health project I visited last week. In case you’re wondering why the mental health focus, it was World Mental Health Day last week. I took the opportunity to visit the Recovery College Collective in Newcastle. Better known as Recoco, the college provides peer-led support and education. It supports over 2,000 people with lived experience of mental ill health. I last visited before the pandemic. Since then, they’ve had to deal with a double-whammy of supporting people through lockdown, and of finding new premises.
Covid safety restrictions required creativity and resourcefulness – everything from moving groups and courses online, to simply going for a walk to talk to people. Alisdair, Recoco’s co-director, told me that they’ve also pioneered new ways of working with statutory mental health services. By having services in the same place, it helps people stay connected when moving between services. Take a look at their online prospectus at www.recoverycoco.com. You’ll be impressed with what they have to offer. And on top of this, they managed to find the new premises in Carliol Square in Newcastle. They’ve plans to develop this into a mental health care, treatment and research hub. What an asset to the city centre that will be.
The Combined Authority doesn’t have the remit for public health or treatment services of course. That lies with our local authorities and NHS. Still, supporting wellbeing and good mental health is behind everything we do. Creating meaningful jobs and tackling poverty are integral to this.
The theme for this year’s World Mental Health Day is “Mental health in an unequal world.” Inequality takes many forms. The relationship between poverty and poor mental health is a close one. Children in the poorest 20% of households are four times more likely to have a serious mental health condition by the age of 11 compared to those from the wealthiest 20%. Despite this, the government cut £20 per week from Universal Credit. This £1000 a year goes to working families amongst others. It has plunged an astonishing 840,000 people, including 300,000 children into poverty. It risks their physical and mental health, and strains our NHS. After ten years of austerity, mental health services have 8.5% less funding than in 2010, but demand has risen by 20%. No wonder GPs and hospitals are stretched to breaking point.
I’m working hard with my cabinet to pull together a range of interventions to tackle poverty. We’ve developed a Child Poverty Prevention Programme for our region. This is putting £900k in projects including poverty intervention measures in schools. Our Good Work Pledge challenges the scourge of precarious employment and in-work poverty. It also requires employers to look after the mental wellbeing of their staff. Our Poverty Truth Commission, launching soon, will develop further measures to alleviate financial hardship. And, we’re working with the well-respected wellbeing authority, Carnegie UK, to become the first Combined Authority to measure wellbeing as an objective, rather than abstract economic statistics.
Good mental health underpins our individual and collective wellbeing. I’m working to make mental health promotion a factor in everything we do at North of Tyne.
*Originally published in the Journal and Evening Chronicle 18 Oct 2021