Can we separate mental health from social health?

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World Mental Health Day is coming up on the 10th of October. Over the past few years, many important new initiatives have arisen to help highlight  how individuals' suffering is not properly understood in the mainstream of life. 

But how much of an individual's problems arise from the social conditions they find themselves in? Is it enough to give help to those who show their symptoms, when many of the causes of their problems are experienced by all of us? Over the past twenty five years, problems thought of as mental health - depression, addiction and social phobias - have increased to epidemic proportions. Is this not better described as a problem of social health? 

While this leap in categorisation has not been attempted by current political parties, there are numerous initiatives whose aim it is to share the problem of mental health with the community in which it appears.

In London, for example, the latest figures show that one in four Londoners will suffer from mental health problems. The newly launched Thrive LDN is a citywide movement to improve the mental health and well-being of all Londoners, supported by the Mayor of London and led by London Health Board.  

At the moment they are setting up Problem Solving Booths across the city (see when and where here) to enable wellbeing conversations. Booths consist of two chairs; one for the ‘helped’ who may have a problem or need advice, and one for the ‘helper’ who assists them; people are often asked to then swap roles. With this method, Thrive LDN aim show that everyone can ask for help without being in mental health crisis - and anyone can offer support, often through empathising. A few photos and a video from their visit to Goldsmiths University are on their Twitter page.

Time To Change is another initiative attracting more and more participants.  Providing a forum for those battling mental health problem to share their stories and open up the conversation helps all of us to understand better what social pressures people are under. Personal stories are shared on Time To Change's homepage and Facebook. Watch Oli, Bernice, Daniela and Alan talk about their experiences below.

But even as we take these important small steps, the urgent need to better understand the psychological and emotional needs of all of us complex human beings must be pursued. Until we begin to design communities and broader societies that move on from 20C conceptions of compromised human survival to 21C visions of ambitious human flourishing, we will keep witnessing the symptoms.