BLOG: Mental Health in an Unequal World

BLOG: Mental Health in an Unequal World

This year’s theme for World Mental Health Day on Sunday 10th October is ‘Mental Health in an Unequal World’ set by the World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH). The day provides an opportunity to advocate making quality mental health care for all a reality, and to empower people to look after their own mental health and provide support to others. 

This has been a mental health pandemic every bit as much as it has been a physical health pandemic. Studies show that 10 million (8.5 million adults and 1.5 million children and young people) in England will need support for their mental health over the next three to five years as a direct result of the pandemic.[1] The need for meaningful support in our local communities has become paramount as we’ve navigated numerous challenges. However, many communities and groups who experience poorer outcomes are overlooked.

For example, Surrey – where Oakleaf is based – is perceived to be an affluent county, yet research finds that a dozen Surrey wards have a higher rate of mental health issues among children and young people than the national average.[2] Research also shows that those suffering mental ill-health in adulthood have experienced issues by the age of 14, and that intervention at this early stage is critical to recovery.[3]

According to the Community Foundation for Surrey, Surrey suffers from one of the highest levels of domestic abuse in the country and cases have continued to increase from 12,000 incidents in 2011/12 to over 14,500 in 2015/16.[4]

It is clear that socio-economic and environmental factors, including poor education, inadequate housing, ill-health, unemployment, poor family relationships, can all have a measurable impact on later mental health.

This being said, one of the biggest obstacles for people struggling with mental ill-health is confronting societal stigma and misconceptions attached to the above factors, making it incredibly difficult to seek out support. According to WFMH:

“Many people with a mental illness do not receive the treatment that they are entitled to and deserve, and together with their families and carers continue to experience stigma and discrimination. The gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ grows ever wider and there is continuing unmet need in the care of people with a mental health problem.”[5]

We recently had the privilege of sitting down and filming Elaine, one of our clients, who touches on the issue of stigma and how she, herself had preconceived notions about mental ill-health before she came to Oakleaf:

“I was on my own, I had a really good job, which paid my mortgage. I was really lucky. I had a great life. Then I got ill, couldn’t pay the mortgage, basically lost everything and ended up in Farnham Road Hospital. You think it can’t happen to you. I trotted around in a suit with a clipboard, I managed staff, I ran meetings… and then I lost my home and I lost my job.

“I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t know places like this could exist and make such a difference – it didn’t touch my world. In my nice shiny office in my lovely big building… I didn’t know that people could struggle so much or could be in so much pain.

“To my shame, I thought that people who were struggling with mental health issues were frightening or weird. I didn’t understand. But it’s not true. We’ve all got different stuff going on… but they’re just people… we’re just people. It can be anyone, regardless of your financial or social situation and it’s that stigma that needs to go.” 

We all have a role to play to address these disparities; this year’s World Mental Health Day campaign is there to encourage us to focus on the issues that perpetuate mental health inequality locally and globally with an aim to help society play an active role in tackling inequality in their local areas; to cement the fact that we are all in this together.

It is therefore so important that we open our eyes to the inequalities that exist on our doorstep and make it known that help is and always will be available to those who need it.

“I first heard about Oakleaf from staff at Farnham Road Hospital, who recommended it to me as a safe space to go to learn to connect with people who are dealing with similar circumstances to myself. At the time I was very withdrawn and suffering from severe social anxiety after a long period of isolation and depression. It took me a little while to work up the courage but eventually I went for a meeting with the Oakleaf team, and I am so glad that I did.

“I cannot thank Oakleaf enough for the services that they provided for me and continue to provide for people who desperately need connection and support.

“Their kindness and dedication to helping people has really changed my life. I continue to use the skills I learned at Oakleaf to manage my mental health on a daily basis and as a result of my experience at Oakleaf, I decided to apply to college. I am now in my second year and training to be a therapeutic counsellor so that I can help people the same way that Oakleaf helped me.” 

 Russell, Oakleaf client

At Oakleaf, we feel it is important to highlight client stories like Russell’s to help dispel myths about mental ill-health and encourage others to do the same. Mental illness is not something shameful that needs to be hidden. This is why we will always encourage you to share your stories so others can see that they’re not alone in the challenges that they are facing.

You can view the full videos of our clients’ stories here.

The premise behind #WorldMentalHealthDay also aligns with Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England’s hopes to create a society where everyone’s mental health matters. MHFA is an internationally recognised training course which teaches people to spot the symptoms of mental health issues, offer initial help and guide a person towards support. Oakleaf provides MHFA training both in-person and online. To find out more, please click here.

If you or someone you know is struggling, please make use of the resources below:

SABP Crisis Helpline: 0800 915 4644

Samaritans: 116 123 (24 hours)

Mental Health Foundation: Covid-19 resource library

Mind: How to Find a Therapist

Citizens Advice: 03444 111 444 (Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm)

Surrey Safe Havens: 6-11pm, 365 days a year

 Here at Oakleaf we will continue to do all we can to improve the lives of people managing mental ill-health in Surrey, to promote awareness and to create a stigma-free community where mental health matters.

 If you are able to make a donation to Oakleaf and help fund vital mental health and wellbeing support, please click here. To all those who already support Oakleaf – we can’t thank you enough.

[1] Centre for Mental Health, 2021

[2] Surrey JSNA Mental Health, 2016

[3] Community Foundation for Surrey, Surrey Uncovered, 2017

[4] ^

[5] World Federation for Mental Health, 2021


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