The STUC is hosting a Mental Health day on 19th May (details below), shaped and promoted by the STUC Equalities committees, to discuss what needs to change at work and in wider society, and how we can support ourselves and each other.
More so now than ever, mental health is a trade union issue. Employment is becoming increasingly precarious for too many workers in Scotland. Low pay and under-employment are rife. Stress and anxiety are becoming normal features of our lives. And life outside of work is increasingly precarious too, with soaring rents in the private sector, spikes in the cost of living, and mounting levels of personal debt. It is no wonder that one in four people suffer mental ill health each year.
The Equality Committees of the Scottish Trades Union Congress have each identified mental health as a key priority for 2018/19. We know that public services that once helped people mitigate mental ill health are stretched to breaking point due to years of cuts. And we also know there are deep structural and cultural problems that lead to workers from under-represented communities being disproportionately impacted by poor mental well-being, and having greater barriers put in the way of treatment and support.
The levels of social isolation and loneliness have increased amongst a variety of demographics, notably men and young people, in correlation with the rise in mental ill health generally.
With over two-thirds of people in Glasgow reporting that they have experienced loneliness and 1.2 million chronically lonely older people in the UK, the newly launched Campaign to End Loneliness calls loneliness ‘endemic’.
There is a social context to the rise in mental ill health and it’s one which means that people cannot simply ‘get over it’ or ‘deal with it’, without a sharp turn towards breaking down these structural barriers.
The Lonely Society, a 2010 report commissioned by The Mental Health Foundation, noted a link between our “individualistic society” and an increase in mental health issues over the past 50 years. It also drew on research showing that mental health problems occur more frequently in unequal societies where vulnerable people are often undervalued and socially neglected.
An intersectional response is needed. One which recognises that older LGBT+ people report even higher levels of loneliness and isolation, that the BME community confront disproportionately higher levels of mental ill health in part due to the continual systemic harassment and subsequent isolation many feel, that young men feel disempowered and lonely partly due to the economic and industrial changes in the way society has shifted thereby often perpetuating the toxic masculinity which harms so many, and that women being sexually harassed can cause or exacerbate mental ill health and women’s image of themselves.
A short-term policy response will not cure this endemic, but a multi-faceted and well-resourced strategy, which places the idea of a well-resourced community at the core, can mitigate against social isolation and loneliness, reversing the tide in favour of social cohesion.
This event on 19th May at the STUC building in Glasgow will explore how we use our personal and collective power to deal with the challenges of modern day life and the impact it has on our individual mental health, as well as the shared mental health of society.
Discussing these issues in the context of austerity and public service cuts and job losses, an increase in social media and automation, and increasing precarity and alienation at work, we want to investigate a joint approach to mental ill health in 2018 Scotland.
Our wellbeing is inextricably linked to the lives of others, therefore we believe that the only way to combat isolation and loneliness is to eradicate the causes of the high increases in anxiety, depression, physical isolation, and breakdown in social cohesion.
Organisations which put co-operation and emulation above competition require to be resourced and allowed to flourish. Trade unions, which remain the largest organisation of people in the UK, are well placed to encourage this and to provide a sense of belonging and identity where people can form bonds through collective activity.