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World Mental Health Day

‘Mental Health in an Unequal World’

By Asa Kerr-Davis and Katharine Anderson, from the Assessment and Therapy team at Five Rivers.

Every year, the World Federation for Mental Health organises a global Mental Health Day. This year, the theme of the day is ‘Mental Health in an Unequal World’.

graphic of head and swirls

Mental Health and Wellbeing

The importance of looking after our mental health has gained increasing recognition in recent years. Many of us feel more comfortable than ever recognising and talking about our feelings and seeking help from friends, family, and services when we are in periods of high stress or low mood.

But there is still a lot more work to be done!

Gradually, research is suggesting that mental health is as important as physical health for our wellbeing, and we should be looking after our minds and bodies equally carefully.

Across the world our experience of mental health varies significantly, and we all face different pressures and challenges in our lives which can place a burden on our wellbeing. It is important to keep on talking about mental health to challenge stigma and show that it is ok to seek support.

Mental Health and Inequality

Everyone has a different experience of mental health. People who are marginalised in society because of their ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, or socio-economic status are all more likely to experience mental health difficulties and are less likely to be able to access help. The impact of COVID-19 across the world has likely exacerbated these inequalities.

For example, children from the poorest 20% of households in the UK are four times as likely to have serious mental health difficulties by the age of 11 as those from the wealthiest 20% (Morrison Gutman et al., 2015). This may be because growing up in poverty is connected to a variety of stressful experiences, including financial insecurity, food poverty, and an increased risk of exposure to traumatic experiences.

It is important to remember that our mental health is linked to the kind of society we live in.

The Human Rights Council of the United Nations (2019) has suggested that good mental health and wellbeing cannot be defined by the absence of a mental health condition, but must be defined instead by:

‘the social psychosocial, political, economic and physical environment that enables individuals and populations to live a life of dignity, with full enjoyment of their rights and in the equitable pursuit of their potential’.

Living in an unequal world is a challenge to everyone’s mental health!

So, what can we do?

‘Do one thing’ for your mental health

It can feel overwhelming to consider the scale of inequality around the world, and difficult to know what we can individually do to help. The mental health charity Mind recognises this and suggests we each should try to ‘Do one thing’ for better mental health.

Every little action which helps yourself and others to protect and maintain their wellbeing is a positive contribution!

Mind suggest that small changes to our everyday routines and actions can make a difference, whether that is going for a regular walk, checking in with a friend you haven’t heard from for a while, or doing something creative. You can download and print Mind’s calendar for the month, which is split into five categories for everyday actions:

  1. Do something different today and make a connection
  2. This week, why not get active?
  3. Take notice and be in the present
  4. Focus on learning
  5. Give

When we practice small, mindful changes in our everyday lives, we often experience a sense of empowerment and reflection, which support our wellbeing. Give it a try and see how you feel!

Find additional resources from Mind, including links to further information and support services here.

colourful graphic of a group of people

Awareness of the Experiences of Others

To understand the ways that other people might experience the world, including how inequality might affect their mental health and our own, we need to be able take the perspective of other people. It can be challenging to imagine seeing the world from someone else’s perspective, but this skill helps us to empathise and support those with different experiences to our own. Helpful strategies to help us take another’s perspective include:

               -Imagining yourself having the same experience as another person

               -Using your own similar past experience to understand another’s situation

               -Applying general knowledge about how people are likely to react in particular situations

When we are able to take an interest in the perspectives of others, we are also able to reflect more about our own perspectives and feelings. By modeling this to people around us, we help others, including family and colleagues, to take different perspectives and be psychologically flexible.

Try out imagining the experiences of different people around the world – picture how you might feel in their living situation or community; whether they feel supported and able to live a fulfilled life or restricted by social dynamics and stigma. How would you feel in their shoes?

Learning About Specialist Services

In our current world, it can be difficult to find the right support for your mental health. Although NHS initiatives like Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) have tried to increase the availability of free therapy for mild problems with mental health, many marginalised people still struggle to find specialist services which are fully able to recognise and work with their experiences. We can learn about specialist services which might be relevant both to ourselves and to signpost others in our lives to. For example:

Black Minds Matter UK

Connects Black individuals and families with free mental health services

METRO LGBTQ Counselling

Offers free one-to-one therapy for LGBTQ young people in London

Woman’s Trust

Offers free individual counselling sessions for women leaving domestic abuse situations.

There are many more organisations that aim to reach out to people who have previously struggled to access support. Learning about these services helps us to understand how mental health services might be experienced differently by different people and help us to support others to find the right support for them!

Reaching Out

The last 18 months have impacted people across the world in many ways. Rounds of lockdowns and social distancing restrictions have led to high levels of stress, frustration, and social isolation for many people. Equally, those who have had to continue frontline work may have experienced health anxiety and required additional support to maintain their wellbeing.

One of the most effective ways we can protect our mental wellbeing is with a network of consistent social support. Especially in times like these, reaching out to friends and colleagues can be a crucial buffer for our mental health. It can be difficult to start emotionally vulnerable conversations, and this requires a degree of trust in the other person. However, beginning these conversations can help to overcome the stigma around sharing our emotions, and help to reduce the degree of vulnerability we feel. A good starting point may be reaching out to ask how someone else is doing – whether a colleague of a friend. This is the foundation of emotional sharing within a relationship, which can gradually develop into a supportive relationship with reciprocal sharing and support.

Tips for Looking After Your Mental Health

The Mental Health Foundation recommends these ten steps to look after your mental health:

1) Talk about your feelings – sharing how you are feeling can help you feel supported

2) Keep active – regular exercise helps us concentrate, sleep, and feel better.

3) Eat well – our mood is heavily affected by our diet. Help your brain to stay healthy with the right mix of nutrients!

4) Be sensible with mood-changing chemicals – some substances, such as alcohol, can have a negative effect on your brain and the rest of your body.

5) Keep in touch – catching up with friends and family is great, whether face-to-face or over the phone or online!

6) Ask for help – it can be hard to accept we aren’t superhuman! When we get tired or overwhelmed it’s important to notice this and ask for practical help or a listening ear.

7) Take a break – having a brief pause from work, or a weekend exploring somewhere new, can de-stress and provide you with some much-needed ‘me time’.

8) Do something you’re good at – whether this is a hobby or a habit, doing activities you enjoy is important to boost your self-esteem and get lost in the moment.

9) Accept who you are – you’re unique! It is easy to compare yourself to others but feeling good about yourself the way you are is important to boost your confidence.

10) Care for others – supporting friends, family, or others can help us feel socially connected and proud of the positive impact we are having on the world!

Charities, Organisations, and Support Groups

Charity What they do Where to find them
Alcoholics Anonymous A free self-help group. The 12 step program involves getting sober with the help of regular face-to-face and online support groups. Call 0800 917 7650 (24-hour helpline)
Al-Anon A free self-help 12 step group for anyone whose life is or has been affected by someone else’s drinking. 0800 0086 811 (10am-10pm daily)
Anxiety UK Providing support for those diagnosed with an anxiety condition Call 03444 775 774 (Mon-Fri, 9:30am5:30pm)
Beat National helpline to encourage and empower people to get support with eating disorders. Call 0808 801 0677 (adults) or 0808 801 0711 (for under-18s)

Bipolar UK Helping people living with manic depression or bipolar disorder


CALM Campaign Against Living Miserably, for men aged 15-35 Call 0800 58 58 58 (daily, 5pm to midnight)

Cruse Bereavement Care Support for those bereaved Call 0808 808 1677 (Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm)

Drinkline Free, confidential helpline for people worried about their own or someone else’s drinking Call 0300 123 1110 (weekdays 9am-8pm, weekends 11am-4pm)
Family Lives Advice on all aspects of parenting, including dealing with bullying. Call 0808 800 2222 (Mon-Fri, 9am-9pm and Sat-Sun, 10am-3pm)
FRANK Free, confidential information and advice about drugs, their effects and the law. Call 0300 1236600 (24-hour helpline) Text 82111

Live Chat service runs 2pm-6pm

Gamblers Anonymous Free self-help group. 12-step program involves stopping gambling with the help of regular face-to-face and online support groups. Call 0330 094 0322
Gam-Anon Free self-help group. 12-step program is for those affected by someone else’s gambling with the help of regular face-to-face and online support groups. Call 08700 50 88 80
Mencap Charity working with a learning disability, their families and carers Call 0808 808 1111 (Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm)

Men’s Health Forum 24/7 stress support for men by text, chat and email
Mental Health Foundation Provides information and support for anyone with mental health difficulties or learning disabilities
Mind Promotes views and needs of people with mental health difficulties Call 0300 123 9939 (Mon-Fri, 9am-6pm)

National Association for Children of Alcoholics Free, confidential advice and information to everyone affected by a parent’s drinking including children, adults and professionals. Call 0800 358 3456 (Fri, Sat, Mon 12pm-7pm, Tues, Weds, Thurs 12pm-9pm)

No panic Offering support for sufferers of panic attacks and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Call 0844 967 4848 (10am-10pm)
NSPCC Children’s charity dedicated to ending child abuse and child cruelty. Call 0800 1111 for Childline for Children (24- hour helpline)

0808 800 5000 for adults concerned about a child (24-hour helpline)

OCD Action Support for people with OCD. Call 0845 390 6232 (Mon-Fri, 9:30am5:30pm)
OCD UK Charity run by people with OCD, for people with OCD. Call 0333 212 7890 (Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm)

Papyrus Young suicide prevention society Call 0800 068 4141 (Mon-Fri, 10am-5pm and 7-10pm, Sat-Sun, 2-5pm)

Rape Crisis Local services. Call 0808 802 9999 (to find your local services; daily 12pm – 2:30pm, 7-9:30pm)

Refuge Advice on dealing with domestic violence Call 0808 2000 247 (24-hour helpline)

Relate UK’s largest provider of relationship support.
Rethink Mental Illness Support and advice for people living with mental health difficulties/illnesses. Call 0300 5000 927

Samaritans Confidential support for people experiencing feelings of distress/despair Call 116 123 (free 24-hour helpline)

SANE Emotional support, information and guidance for people affected by mental health difficulties, their families and their carers. Textcare: comfort and care via text message:

Peer support forum:


Smart Recovery UK SMART Recovery UK face-to-face and online groups help people decide whether they have a problem with alcohol and drugs, build up their motivation to change and offer a set of proven tools and techniques to support recovery. Call 0330 053 6022 (Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm)

Victim Support Local services Call 0808 168 9111 (24-hour helpline)


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