Mental Health Awareness Week 2020: What do we know about Southwark's mental health?

To celebrate Mental Health Awareness Week 2020 (18-24 May) we’ve pulled out key findings and quotes from our mental health work over the past four years. Read about what we know about Southwark's mental health, and find out this year's MHAW theme.
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Mental Health Awareness Week aims to promote conversation around a particular topic each year, as part of the Mental Health Foundation’s campaign for a mentally healthy society. This year the theme is kindness

Being kind to others is good for our own mental health, and kindness is very important during times of uncertainty. Seeing and hearing ‘good news stories’ has helped lots of people feel better and calmer during the coronavirus pandemic. However, kindness also doesn’t mean we can't talk about the issues in our society and healthcare system.

To recognise MHAW this year, we want to highlight some of the work we’ve done with Southwark residents around mental health over the past four years. People have shared difficult thoughts, feelings and experiences with us about their health and the care they’ve received. We see this as an act of kindness, to the services they want to improve for others, and sometimes even to themselves. People often feel better just by being open and telling us about the issues they’ve had with health and social care services.

Sometimes while you're talking you realise the solution and the logic behind it and it makes more sense; you get epiphanies; speaking helps you be rational.
— Young Voices on Mental Health, 2016

We always try and have a mental health strand to our work. We know it is a prominent issue in Southwark, and this was reinforced by our priority setting exercise in early 2017, where mental health in general was ranked highly among the areas needing our attention. So, we've pulled out some key findings and quotes from our mental health research over the past four years.

2019-2020: The Impact of Caring on Unpaid Carers

How did we engage? A survey, interviews and focus groups with 78 carers and an event.

What were some key findings?

  • 58% of the participants said that caring had a negative or strongly negative impact on their mental health.
  • They told us this was because of:
    • Chronic worry about the person they are caring for and their future,
    • Sleep deprivation and tiredness, and
    • Loss of personal time for self care or building and maintaining relationships.

What is one thing carers wanted from services to help their mental health? More ongoing and less rigid support, such as mental health drop-ins for carers, regular check-ins with a ‘key contact’, and more flexible respite.

What is one thing that has been done in Southwark to help carers with their mental health? In 2019 Southwark Council set up a Carers Pathway Board to improve the process by which carers access and receive support, at every stage of their contact with services. Healthwatch Southwark is involved in the board to ensure that unpaid carers' voices are heard.

Read the full report to find out more

I used to get 3-4 hours’ sleep per night, as my husband was walking around the house banging and hallucinating…I was frightened because I did not know how things would evolve from one minute to the next.
— The Impact of Caring on Unpaid Carers, 2020

2018-2019: Strong in Southwark: The Experiences of Southwark's LGBTQ+ Community

How did we engage? A survey with 210 local people and an event.

What were some key findings?

  • Many participants felt that LGBTQ+ people are a neglected community with specific needs, including more prevalent mental health difficulties.
  • 71% of respondents felt there was a need for LGBTQ+ specific services (including mental health services).
  • 42% of respondents had accessed a mental health service within the last two years. 
  • Notably, 27% of these had received private counselling - sometimes outside of the borough - often so they could receive an LGBTQ+ specific (or more welcoming) service.

What is one thing LGBTQ+ people wanted from services to help their mental health? A specialist LGBTQ+ mental health service.

What is one thing that has been done in Southwark to help LGBTQ+ people with their mental health? In 2019 Melbourne Grove and Hambleden Medical Practice is the first GP surgery in Southwark to receive a Pride in Practice Gold award for meeting the needs of LGBT patients.

Read the full report to find out more

The more ‘normal’ gay scene is focused around drinking, to the extent of binge drinking, underpinned by a mental health crisis among gay men. I feel that gay men in London drink to forget, or not to feel, or to avoid dealing with (or talking about) their emotions.
— Strong in Southwark, 2019

2017-2018: Help In a Mental Health Crisis

How did we engage? In-depth interviews with 12 people.

What were some key findings?

  • People didn’t define ‘mental health crisis’ in one consistent way. Definitions ranged from immediate suicidal feelings and paranoia, to issues with daily functioning and not being able to see a way forward.
  • A combination of difficult social circumstances, such as being a carer, parenting issues, housing and employment problems, often preceded their crisis.
  • A&E was seen as a last resort for support, and those who did go to A&E found it a difficult environment while waiting to be seen. 
  • Interventions provided in A&E did not feel very decisive for some of the people involved, who would have liked more signposting or support at the point of discharge. 
  • Participants highly valued professionals who were compassionate, non-judgmental and took the time to understand their crisis and make a plan.

What is one thing people in crisis wanted from services to help their mental health? Shorter waiting times for Talking Therapies, and potentially a wider range of therapy options beyond Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

What is one thing that has been done in Southwark to help people in crisis with their mental health? Southwark's Crisis Assessment Team service was extended to 24 hours a day, and Partnership Southwark has been bringing together the NHS, social care, and VCS and others to further improve crisis care as part of their Mental Health Strategy.

Read about this project in our 2018/2019 annual report

The experience with the  MHN [Mental Health Nurse at the GP] was 100% positive. She’s not judgmental. There’s no telling you you’re wrong to feel this way. She has a real vested interest in stuff that could go alongside the medication. She’s very practical but not feeling distant – very good at being compassionate, but also practical.
— Help In a Mental Health Crisis, 2018

2016: Young Voices on Mental Health

How did we engage? Workshops and a survey with 114 young people aged 12-23.

What were some key findings?

  • Over half of participants disagreed that they would be able to talk to their GP about their mental health.
  • They told us this was because:
    • Their relationship with the GP was not good enough,
    • They had fears about confidentiality,
    • They did not believe GPs could help (some did not know they even had a role in mental health support), or
    • They thought they would only be offered drugs that they didn’t want to take.
  • 61% of young people agreed that they would be able to talk to their friends, and 53% to their parents, about their mental wellbeing.
  • One reason young people said they wouldn't talk to their parents because felt their family didn’t understand mental health issues, perhaps because of their cultural background.
  • One reason young people wouldn't talk to their friends was because they were afraid that a problem might get ‘brushed off’. 

What is one thing young people wanted from services to help their mental health? More practical, in-depth education about mental health at schools. Several people suggested having medical professionals or external organisations come in, partly so that young people are more aware of sources of support.

What is one thing that has been done in Southwark to help young people with their mental health? In May 2020 The Nest opened - a service that provides free mental health and wellbeing support for young people aged 13 – 25. The Nest an open access service (i.e. no waiting lists) that provides early and preventative help for issues like worry, anxiety and stress. Find out more here.

Read the full report to find out more

My family would joke about, they laugh it off, they think it will help but it doesn’t help - it’s a Jamaican thing. So I’d be too embarrassed – no wonder men commit suicide!
— Young Voices on Mental Health, 2016

Before 2016, we also worked with groups of Somali women, Bengali women, Travellers and Vietnamese mental health service users to hear about their mental health experiences. You can find a summary of our mental health engagement work between 2013 and 2016 here

What next?

Our next mental health project is about Talking Therapies in Southwark. People's access to, and experience of, Talking Therapies has come up again and again in the projects described above. 

If you've accessed, tried to access, or even wanted to access Talking Therapies in Southwark please get in touch with us:

020 7358 7005

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