Growing up and growing old: Findings from the Mental Health Fellowships

From 2016 to 2019 the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust ran the Mental Health Fellowships programme, funding individuals to travel abroad to learn more about how community-based solutions are being created in response to some of today’s most pressing mental health challenges.

The Mental Health Foundation was the expert partner in this programme, helping to shape its aims, select the successful candidates from hundreds of applicants and provide mentoring to the successful Churchill Fellows. In total, 59 Fellows were chosen to investigate best practice in 17 countries and bring back new evidence and ideas to create positive change in their profession, practice and communities in the UK. This is one of four briefings that distil the key findings from this rich body of learning, and make recommendations for policy and practice in the UK. Each briefing focuses on an aspect of the Mental Health Fellowships’ overarching theme ‘community-based solutions’, and an overview of the learning from this Fellowship can be found in the programme’s summative briefing.

Scope

This briefing on Growing Up and Growing Old brings together learning from eight Fellows’ research in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the USA and Ireland, that focuses on how community-based approaches are being used to effectively support the mental health of people in the early and later stages of life. The learning from this category is grouped into two main sections:

Section 1: Growing Up

Focuses on “growing up” and provides a number of case studies and findings from four Fellows’ research, detailing approaches for supporting young children and families in the first 1,000 days of life, and during the school years.

Section 2: Growing Old

focuses on “growing old” and provides a number of case studies and findings from four Fellows’ work and presents a range of community-based initiatives being used abroad to support the mental health of this age group.

Why growing up and growing old?

In recent years, there has been increasing recognition from UK health care providers, decision makers and the general public that people in both the early and later stages of life are facing considerable challenges in relation to their mental health.

Research suggests that a large proportion of mental health problems develop in childhood and adolescence, with around half developing by age 14, and threequarters by age 24, and for older people, depression was found to affect around 22% of men and 28% of women aged 65 years and over. Despite this, 85% of older people with depression receive no help at all from the NHS.

At present, effective and timely support is not always available for these age groups, and times in our life when we should feel valued, supported and fulfilled, are instead, due to a wide range of factors, leaving some feeling at their most vulnerable, alone and isolated. The Churchill Fellows’ research is therefore welcome and comes at an important time. As the radical revolution of mental health provision continues, with the ambition of community-based care models largely replacing the acute and long-term care provided in in-patient settings, the Fellows’ findings provide new ideas for how our existing community-based settings, such as schools and care homes, can help to ensure that both young and older people’s mental health is protected, valued and cared for, as we move through our lives, growing up and growing old.