Laura Nadine Schuhmacher Reports on the Mental Health and Well-Being Conference

Laura Schuhmacher Photo New

Well-being was the focus of the first day of the conference: How can well-being be defined, measured and used to positively influence mental health?

Mental health presents a great challenge to the everyday life in the UK. Not only does poor mental health carry a large economic cost as one of the biggest causes of disability, there are also currently huge gaps in service, and most sufferers of poor mental health do not have access to evidence-based interventions. Furthermore, mental health is widely stigmatised and discriminated against even by health service providers.

One area that clearly stood out from the discussions of the day was prevention. Studies have shown that interventions during adolescence have a great positive affect on mental health later on. Predictors of poor mental health are for example teen pregnancy and substance abuse. One provider of such interventions could be schools: Mental health education, empathy and mindfulness training can create mental skills that prevent mental illness in later life.

There is no clear definition of the term well-being, which leads to difficulties in studying as well as providing help. The Rose hypothesis of mental health suggests that improving the well-being of the majority of people on the mental health spectrum (Fig. 1), currently experiencing moderate mental health or languishing, could shift the overall curve to the right for the whole population. This would be more effective and easier to implement than targeting the group at the far left end of the spectrum (who already suffer from mental illness) and thereby well-being could be preventive of mental disorders. At the moment, there is a lack of peer-reviewed research into the relationship of mental health and well-being, thus it is not clear if well-being can positively influence mental health as suggested by Rose’s hypothesis.

Rose Hypothesis

Figure 1: Mental Health Specture. Graph shows percentage of population with different mental health states. Rose’s hypothesis suggests that targeting the centre rather than the small group to the far left end of the spectrum could provide a better outcome for the total population.

Another interesting graph discussed during the meeting was the dual axis model of mental health (Fig. 2), which suggests that mental illness (disorder) and mental health (well-being in this case) are two different axis and as such do not necessarily predict each other.

Dual Axis Model

Figure 2: The Dual Axis Model of Mental Health suggests that well-being (“mental health”) and mental illness are not related linearly and therefore must be treated as separate (though related) issues.

Additionally, one needs to take into account that in this graph, the mental illness axis might as well be exchanged for “physical illness”, or any other predictor of well-being as can be seen on the graph in figure 3. It is important not to forget that psychological well-being, ie mental health, is only one influencing factor. For this reason, it is important to work towards de-stigmatising mental health in the population and get to a point where for example a period of depression is treated the same as a broken bone. Only then can we as a society provide adequate help to the sufferers of mental illness and improve the overall wellbeing of the country significantly.

Well-Being Wheel

Figure 3: Schematic illustration of factors influencing well-being.

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