female throwing snow in the air
Mental health

Prevention is better than cure

The incidents of mental health illness is rising. Currently the statistic quoted is 1 in 4 people will suffer during their lifetime and this is thought to be rising. Community Mental Health Teams are so under resourced they are constantly having to raise the threshold people have to reach to gain access to the service. All too often I hear people in crisis are not getting the support they need.

With mental health crisis services in crisis what can we do? 

In the past medication was the cure-all. But people often need therapy to fully understand the underlying problems and to develop management techniques. The government initiative of Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) is great. Although it sounds great that I recently heard one service is doubling the number of Psychological Well-being Practitioners (PWP) it’s training, it concerns me that (although these therapies are obviously needed) we’re throwing money at the wrong end of the line.

Surely, prevention would be better than cure? But what’s being done in this respect?

Mental illness develops due to a variety of factors. These include biological, psychological, social and societal factors.
There is controversy about whether we genetically eradicate illness. Finding the genes responsible for mental illness predisposition is a long way off so we do not need to consider this just yet. So, what can we do about the other risk factors?
The World Health Organisation (WHO) published a document in 2004 detailing how prevention of mental health disorders is a public health concern. They found a number of protective factors to avoid developing a mental illness, these included:

  • Empowerment
  • Ethnic minorities integration
  • Positive interpersonal interactions
  • Social participation
  • Social responsibility and tolerance
  • Social services
  • Social support and community networks

The BBC published an article recently citing a longitudinal study of 10,000 people showing that if children had been involved in scouts or guides they were “15% less likely than other adults to suffer from anxiety or mood disorders.”

The Scout organisation states that they:

  • Offer challenging and unique opportunities
  • Enable people to help others and make a positive impact in communities
  • Help young people reach their full potential by developing skills including:
    • Teamwork
    • Time management
    • Initiative
    • Communication
    • Self-motivation
    • Cultural awareness
    • Commitment
    • Creativity
    • First aid
  • Help young people to get jobs
  • Create an environment to make friends and have fun
  • Ensure young people get outdoors

It strikes me that the being involved in scouts or guides covers all the the protective factors quoted in the WHO publication!

There is something unique about the variety of activities and opportunities offered and the environment created by scouts and guides as researchers “didn’t see the same protective effect from, for example, volunteering or from church groups”.
We assume that the “15% less likely to suffer…” is due to the protective factors produced by being involved in scouts of guides, however, it could be that people who are less susceptible, choose to be involved. There may be no way of knowing which way round the relationship is but I’d say there’s no harm in joining, it sounds like a lot of fun and the opportunity to gain skills and experience will definitely be of benefit to any young person.

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