A community-based approach is vital to tackling mental illness

This week I read in this paper, the moving story of former Bourne Town manager Jimmy McDonnel and his struggle with mental health. It was an incredibly frank and inspiring call to others to seek help and to talk about problems they may be having. Indeed just last week we also heard the heart-breaking news that television presenter Caroline Flack has joined the growing list of well-known celebrities to take their own life.

With one in four suffering from mental problems in the UK today, stories like Jimmy’s and Caroline Flack’s remind us that mental health issues can happen to anyone, no matter how successful, wealthy or happy they may seem to be.

I was fortunate to recently visit our local charity Mind Space, set up by the energetic GP Dr. Dan Petrie with a vision to help improve mental health in Stamford. Their approach is one focused on building a community, partnering with volunteers and local organisations to encourage people to support each other.

Later in the day I met with Evergreen Care Trust, a Stamford-based organisation that runs a number of events and programs to tackle loneliness among older people. They host social lunches that enable attendees to make new friends, and in fact they also run a specific befriender program which matches caring volunteers with people who may be feeling lonely.

Loneliness in particular is a real challenge that cuts across our community and there are people who can go for days, weeks or even a month without seeing a friend or family member. Late last year the Prime Minister launched the government’s loneliness strategy which sets out to empower GPs to refer patients experiencing loneliness to community activities and voluntary organisations, like Mind Space. By 2023, all GPs in England will be able to refer patients to tailored community support, instead of defaulting to medicine.

A community-based approach is vital to tackling the many different forms of mental illness, but it starts with the basic premise that if we all do our bit to check on each other and listen more, people will hopefully feel more cared for and less alone.

Stamford Mercury