Building Wellbeing – How one community claimed its story
Date: October 31, 2019
Author: Nic Powell, Research Assistant
What makes us mentally healthy? Our genes play a part. The quality of healthcare also plays a part. Our behaviours and physical health cannot be ignored. But it is the environment we live in that affects each of these things and plays a key role in determining our mental health.
For this reason, we need to escape from making our health-related initiatives only about the individual. This means that we should take a population health approach to mental health. To do this, we must look at policy, community development and the social environment to see what makes it easier for people to stay or become more well.
Action at the community level can build factors that protect our health. In 2016, the Clarence Valley community in North Coast of NSW created a partnership between community members, health service providers, education, police, and council, dedicated to improving the mental health and wellbeing of everyone in the Clarence Valley. They called it Our Healthy Clarence. Nobody owns it but everyone belongs to it.
Our Healthy Clarence addresses suicide prevention but is much more than a suicide prevention committee. It enables training, service collaboration and service access initiatives to improve care for people who need it. In doing so it has built the capacity of the community to recognise and help people in need, prior to crisis.
The focus on wellbeing has allowed the whole community to build hope and aim to be healthy. It has combatted loneliness by creating pop-up hubs for people to visit and have fun, and also act as a referral centre to help cope with stress (financial, housing, conflict etc.). They’ve partnered with Clarence Youth Action to organise events for the young people of the Valley. As Our Healthy Clarence develops, they are reaching further into the community to support individuals, groups and organisations and make mental health and wellbeing part of the culture.
This approach has empowered the steering committee, who have nurtured hope in the community and use it to address issues as they arise. This empowerment included successful advocacy for services when gaps were identified. The broader community are consistently engaged to ensure that the initiative stays relevant and useful. It is this grassroots approach that has helped Our Healthy Clarence persist and grow in the community. To read more about Our Healthy Clarence, see our recent paper.
To build health and increase our quality of life, action is required at many levels. By focussing on the individual and on illness we can lose sight of the broader factors at play and the things that make us healthy.
Community-driven action, like Our Healthy Clarence, is one way for us to reorient our environments (and lives) towards good mental health and wellbeing.