The Winston Churchill Memorial Trust and the Mental Health Foundation have published findings of a three-year programme investigating mental health around the globe

When we want to improve something, it’s common sense to look for approaches that other people have used to do the same thing. Learning from a tried and tested approach and implementing similar solutions is often the simplest and most effective way to go.

This is exactly what a recent research programme, funded by the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust (WCMT) and supported by the Mental Health Foundation (MHF), hoped to achieve for mental health services.

This programme, which ran from 2016 to 2019, funded 59 individuals to travel abroad to learn more about how community-based solutions are being created in response to some of today’s most pressing mental health challenges. Now, for the first time, the key findings and evidence from these prestigious Fellowships in mental health will be shared in a series of free dedicated podcasts and briefings.

Their findings are grouped under four main themes:

  • Trauma and Adversity: How community-based approaches are used to support people affected by trauma.
  • Growing Up and Growing Old: How community-based approaches are used to support the mental health of people in the early and later stages of life.
  • Creativity and Innovation: How creative arts and digital technological innovations are used abroad to support people’s mental health.
  • Equality and Diversity: How approaches in other countries are used to help reduce mental health inequalities and protect the rights of vulnerable groups.

Between them, the Fellows travelled to 17 countries, including Australia, Canada, United Arab Emirates, and the USA. They investigated examples of best practice in other countries and considered how their learning can be applied in the UK.

The Fellows come from a mix of professions, ranging from prison officers to clinical psychologists, military veterans to software developers, teachers, and more. From their different perspectives, they all have a shared goal: to create a mentally healthier society for all.

Meet the Fellows and their projects

Chartered Psychologist and Counselling Directory member Dr Amanda-Jane Wood was one of six Fellows working under the Trauma and Adversity briefing. She travelled to the US to investigate the provision of psychological support for military service members, exploring ways of improving psychological support for military families, particularly children.

From her research, Amanda has recommended a more holistic approach for treating trauma - providing healing for both ‘mind and body’ - as it is something that exists not only in our minds but also in our bodies.

Some of the Fellows focused on innovative ways of sustaining good mental health among people in minority groups. Dr Erica Mapule McInnis, Director of Nubia Wellness and Healing, saw how African psychology and an African-centred approach to mental health are commonplace in parts of the US, but rare in the mental health system in the UK.

She says: “It's simply saying we want to use the best of African culture and the best of African thought and practice as a wellness model. That's not to say we can't tap into Eurocentric models. But, for many black people, these models aren’t healing enough of them quickly enough.”

Within the ‘Growing Up and Growing Old’ theme, Churchill Fellow, Pam Schweitzer, visited Japan. She studied how art projects based on sharing reminiscences of the past can help older people living with dementia. In her findings, Pam shares insights from an 'Intergenerational Home' in Tokyo which provides comprehensive care both to older people and to infants and young children under the same roof.

Focusing on digital innovations for grief support, Dr Erin Hope Thompson explored services that are used across the USA. She was impressed by The Dinner Party, a worldwide network helping those who are newly bereaved. Individuals are encouraged to sign up to 'the club nobody wants to join', where they are carefully matched with people in their area who have suffered a similar loss.

Operating superficially like a dating app, The Dinner Party uses the locally arranged dinners as a sociable way of kick-starting supportive relationships and building community and connection over time.

What can we learn from this research?

This new body of findings and recommendations provides new ideas and insights that can be applied to mental health provision in the UK. It has important implications for how the NHS and local government design and commission services and projects to improve mental health in our communities.

Julia Weston, Chief Executive of WCMT, said: “This global knowledge exchange with 17 countries by 59 Churchill Fellows is an invaluable resource.  We’re delighted to be able to share it for the benefit of everyone with an interest in strengthening mental health across all our communities.”

Mark Rowland, Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation, said: “Before the Coronavirus pandemic, an estimated one in six people experienced a mental health problem every week.  Evidence shows that Coronavirus and necessary lockdown measures are worsening existing mental health inequalities and that more people will have poor mental health as a result of the pandemic, unless bold preventative action is taken.

This work highlights vital learning about the need for mental health responses to be built around the culture and experiences of the many diverse groups affected by poor mental health.

“The Churchill Fellows have done important research into examples of best practice and innovation in other countries, and their work is vital in helping us look at new ways of tackling difficult and under-researched issues. Although these Fellowship visits took place before the pandemic, this learning is highly relevant to addressing the mental health challenges we now face.”

The new series of dedicated podcasts and briefings can be accessed at the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust and Mental Health Foundation websites. Join the conversation on social using the hashtag #WorldOfMentalHealth.