There’s been lots in the news this week about mental health awareness and how we can all help people who might be suffering in silence, writes leader of Peterborough City Council Cllr John Holdich.
As leader of the council I see examples all the time of the impact mental health problems can have on people’s lives, so I’m always pleased to see the issue being highlighted.
For example, our housing needs team regularly come into contact with people who are homeless or threatened with homelessness because their lives have been affected by mental health problems. Without support this can lead to relationship issues.
Our social workers support young people who are struggling to achieve their full potential, residents who are finding it hard to be good parents and adults who are struggling to lead independent lives. These challenges can often be a result of mental health problems.
As part of Mental Health Awareness Week, the importance of talking about mental health is being emphasised - how listening cannot be underestimated, and how each and every one of us has the power to make a difference to someone’s life.
What always concerns me is that it is often not obvious when someone is suffering, in the way it is with a physical disability.
Many years ago I had an uncle who was affected by the war and his mental health suffered as a result. There was no support for him and he was never fully recovered.
Back then no one knew what to do - we didn’t even know what to call it. As a result, my uncle was partly ostracised, not because people didn’t care, but because they felt uncomfortable around him. On the rare occasions that anyone did talk about what had happened, my uncle was described as having ‘had a funny turn after the war’.
In the decades that passed, I’ve seen a shift in how people with stress, PTSD, anxiety and depression are treated. The fact these conditions now have names and people feel comfortable talking about them in their homes, the media and on the street shows you how far we have come.
Here in Peterborough we are doing lots to support people. A pilot launched by the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Trust, which encourages people phoning 111 to press ‘2’ to access emergency mental health services, has been so successful it’s now on the brink of being rolled out nationwide.
It’s recognised that young people can be particularly susceptible to mental health problems and that teaching young people to help one another is often the best way of helping pupils achieve their potential. It was this finding that led to the launch of peer cafes in some city schools where pupils are trained on how to provide coaching and support to their peers on a drop-in basis.
In addition, Ken Stimpson Community School and Nene Park Academy use ‘Stress LESS’ champions who deliver workshops to fellow pupils, write mental health blogs, set up anonymous Q&A support online and art sessions to help people relax.
We all lead busy lives, but please take time to look after your own mental health. There’s lots of information at www.keep-your-head.com.
If you know someone who is struggling, don’t bury your head in the sand, strike up a conversation, invite them out for coffee, anything to show you are there to support and listen.
In my previous column I talked about communities, and our health and wellbeing is just as important. Talking and listening to each other makes our communities stronger and a more caring place in which to live.
Finally, I was surprised to learn recently that around 35 per cent of children in Peterborough are obese by the time they reach the age of 11.
Tackling childhood obesity is a key priority for our public health team who have been working with community leaders, schools and fast food retailers to develop a three-year plan focused on helping reduce this figure. The team is bidding for funding as part of the government-led ‘Trailblazer’ programme, which if successful, would see them implement and develop this strategy locally. Let’s hope for good news!