Our emotional health skills can support us with how we feel, think, behave and interact with those around us. These skills impact our quality of life as well as providing us with protective factors should we find ourselves going through a period of ill-health, whether physical or mental. If our emotional health is good, we might feel more able to:
Notice stress or pain rising in our bodies (self-awareness)
Find ways to calm or settle ourselves (self-regulation)
Know that there are others around who might wish to support us, or be there for us (beliefs about others)
Reach out for help (self-agency)
Know that we are worth helping (self-belief)
Turn to friends/family for support (social awareness, relationship skills)
If we are also surrounded by an emotionally healthy environment, we might be able to reach out a bit sooner, to enjoy support simply to help us through more difficult days, to be present and continue to contribute at home, at school or at work.
Our own emotionally healthy ways of being will also contribute positively to the relationships we have with those around us.
If we have poor emotional health, we may find life more of a struggle, have less resilience in times of challenge and feel unable to enjoy the everyday contentments or the bigger joys when they happen.
When our emotional and mental health are good, we are best placed to support others.
If we wish to invest in promoting emotional health across the life course, along the way preventing many mental health challenges from becoming embedded, there are some clear ways forward:
1. Universal and targeted relational parenting programmes, manualised and available from pre-birth through to the teenage years. As parents, we come to the role with our own experiences of having been parented. For some this will be a good-enough start, for others, whose own experiences as a child perhaps lacked warmth, attunement and nurturing, this can be more difficult. Parenting is a challenging task for us all, and we need to feel listened to, safe and nurtured if we are to learn how to break some inter-generational cycles. Gently and carefully building the emotional health of the adults around babies and children is a long-term approach to creating a healthier society.
2. A whole school approach – this involves sharing with all school staff and parents/carers what we now understand about how children’s brains develop. We can practise strategies to support healthy child development and can create an emotionally healthy place of learning, where more children and families can thrive and achieve.
3. Actions to change the workplace culture - and by that we mean the lived experience shared by people in a workplace. From a public health perspective, the workplace is an important setting not just for individual interventions to support someone’s mental or physical health, but also for working on relational cultures where everyone can contribute to an emotionally healthy, psychologically safe, enabling environment.
Last year, Professor Kevin Fenton (Public Health England) made a plea for a public health approach to the UK’s economic recovery:
The nature and scale of these challenges make it clear that we can’t simply “treat” our way out of this situation. A focus on creating and protecting health, reducing health inequalities, and improving population health will be essential if we’re to ease demand on services and tackle the growing burden of multimorbidity. Improving the health of our most deprived communities is in lockstep with these aims and with the government’s central objectives of economic growth and levelling up. Key to achieving all these outcomes is prevention.
Investing in public health is essential for the UK’s economic recovery Professor Kevin Fenton, Public Health England BMJ 2022;379:o2756
The challenge is to find ways to increase the investment in and commitment to prevention in the UK, and to do so across all settings, including universal community settings. Given the impact of the pandemic, this challenge becomes even more important. We need to look in the long term at costs and benefits to our society, rather than being hampered by short-term political spans of 5 years.
We now understand and have the evidence that it is the places and circumstances in which we are born, grow, study, live and work that have a really powerful influence on our mental, physical and emotional health. (Health Matters: prevention – a life course approach May 2019 PHE)
It is time to invest over the long term in building our society’s emotional health.
Mary Taylor, Head of Programmes at Family Links the Centre for Emotional Health
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