Laura Nadine Schuhmacher reports on day one of the Cumberland Lodge conference held on 1-2 February 2016

Published Date: 
Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Well-being was the focus of the first day of the conference: how can well-being be defined, measured and used to positively influence mental health? 

Mental health presents a great challenge to everyday life in the UK. Not only does poor mental health carry a large economic cost as one of the biggest causes of disability, there are also currently huge gaps in service, and most sufferers of poor mental health do not have access to evidence-based interventions. Furthermore, mental health is widely stigmatised and discriminated against even by health service providers. 

One area that clearly stood out from the discussions was prevention. Studies have shown that interventions during adolescence have a great positive affect on mental health later in life.

Predictors of poor mental health are for example teenage pregnancy and substance abuse. One provider of such interventions could be schools: mental health education, empathy and mindfulness training can create skills that can help prevent mental illness in later life.

There is no clear definition of the term well-being, which leads to difficulties in studying as well as providing help. The mental health of the population can be represented by a Gaussian curve (i.e. a normal distribution), with the majority experiencing moderate mental health, while a small percentage on the extreme end suffer from mental disorders, or have above average mental health (“flourishing”) at the other extreme.

The Rose hypothesis of mental health suggests that improving the well-being of the majority of people on the mental health spectrum currently experiencing moderate mental health could shift the overall curve to the right for the whole population, meaning that less people would be at the suffering end of the spectrum.

This would be more effective and easier to implement than targeting the group at the far left end of the spectrum (who already suffer from mental illness) and thereby well-being could be preventive of mental disorders.

At the moment, there is a lack of peer-reviewed research into the relationship of mental health and well-being, thus it is not clear if well-being can positively influence mental health as suggested by Rose’s hypothesis. 

Another interesting way of considering mental health and well-being was by representing mental illness (disorder) and mental health (well-being in this case) as two different axis which do not necessarily predict each other. This leads to the acknowledgement that mental illness might as well be exchanged for “physical illness”, or any other predictor of well-being as a separate variable, and should be treated as independent of well-being.

Therefore, it is important to work towards de-stigmatising mental health in the population and to get to a point where, for example, a period of depression is treated the same as a broken bone. Only then can we as a society provide adequate help to the sufferers of mental illness and improve the overall well-being of the country significantly.