What does sociology need to contribute towards or against the well-being agenda? by Lydia Lewis


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Lydia Lewis' presentation at Sociology of Mental Health Study Group symposium: What does sociology need to contribute towards or against the wellbeing agenda? held on 10 June 2013.

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  • Become prominent in social policy discourse, across areas including education and mental health, and also in public discourse. But often used in a loose catch-all way and doesn’t seem a lot of critical debate about the agenda. So organised this symposium to offer a space for that.
  • Goleman – raising awareness of the whole idea that emotions and emotional health were topics worthy of discussion and focused attention on the links between social and emotional intelligence and educational outcomes such as learning, cognitive development, school attendance and job successReports of high levels of mental health problems in children and young people and which linked ill health including mental health and poor educational outcomes – Independent Inquiry into inequalities in health 1998 Sir Donald Acheson – played key role in shaping ECM agenda as well as other policy initiatives. UNICEF report in 2007 which showed poor wellbeing among British children compared to other European countries (although that’s been contested recently – John Gray Cambridge University).Growing international movement for mental health promotion in schools in countries such as Australia and North America UK policy development under New Labour concerned with addressing social inequalities and social exclusion.Which we’ve seen a movement away from the area of mental health in the last few years, towards a concern with individual self care and resilience. And as KE will discuss later, coalition policy has also encompassed a renewed concern with behaviour change.No Health without Mental health – includes aim to improve mental health and wellbeing of population alongside improving services. Reasons:Financial- recognition that focusing on those experiencing mental health difficulties doesn’t help shift the picture of mental health for the population; that opposite of mental ill-health is not just its absence but rather the presence of positive psychological states.
  • Reflected in other sort of operational definitions:NICE 2008 – systematic review of evidence on promoting social and emotional wellbeing in secondary schoolsFriedli – what makes us health, the asset approach in practiceEudainomic aspects: Capabilities approach advocated for evaluation approaches – basis in human rights and sees wellbeing as the outcome of contextually dependent freedoms and choices available to people.What’s the difference between mental wellbeing and mental health? For some people same as mental health – and useful concept for referring to a continuum between good mental health and poor mental health. But mental health often euphemism for mental illness so people don’t like to use it. MWIA – this one of the reasons not referring to mental health impact assessment.
  • Definitional problems remain and so operationalisation is a problem.Danger of term becoming a catch-allProblems of a semantic split between mental illness and wellbeing, understandings of ‘recovery’.
  • Image from a NEF report which was commissioned jointly by the National Mental Health Development Unit (NMHDU) and the NHS Confederation in 2010.Connect, be active, take notice, keep learning, give – developed by the NEF in response to the Foresight Project on Mental Capital. Now quite widely adopted.Is there a danger that the five a day behavioural, health education approach depoliticises the issue of health inequalities – moves focus onto the individual, in the process structural and political matters overlooked?
  • Implications of resilience and assets agenda - Psycho-social roll call – self esteem, confidence, meaning and purpose etc. And features of social capital such as social networks, reciprocity and mutual aid – are often abstracted from the material realities of people’s lives; focus becomes on individual and collective psychological attributes. Questions of power and political voice become avoided. Also promote blaming of people for their own disadvantage. Interactions between the wellbeing agenda and welfare reform.Detracts from those most in needImposing wellbeing agenda on adult education - medicalisation of learning in terms of the kinds of outcomes that are being measured and the nature and content of provision? What does that mean for adult learning organisations, in terms of provision, kinds of offer,mission and politics? Detracting from other curriculum areas. Teaching wb implies an emotional deficitResearch does not show a strong relationship between social and emotional and academic ‘effectiveness’ in schools
  • What does sociology need to contribute towards or against the well-being agenda? by Lydia Lewis

    1. 1. What does sociology need to contribute towards or against the well-being agenda? BSA Mental Health Study Group symposium 10th June 2013 Lydia Lewis Study Group co-convenor lydia.lewis@wlv.ac.uk
    2. 2. Purpose To provide a space for critical sociological discussion of the current UK government ‘wellbeing’ agenda and its implications.
    3. 3. Origins of the wellbeing agenda in schools (Coleman, 2009)     Daniel Goleman’s book, Emotional Intelligence (1996) Levels of mental health problems in children and young people and associated costs Growing international movement for mental health promotion in schools in countries such as Australia and North America UK policy development under New Labour concerned with addressing social inequalities and social exclusion.
    4. 4. What is well-being? Theoretically-informed research, two components:  hedonic wellbeing - happiness, life satisfaction and interest in life  eudaimonic wellbeing - optimal psychological functioning, positive relationships with others and personal growth. NICE (2008):  Emotional - feelings  Psychological -characteristics such as resilience and coping skills  Social - understanding and managing social relationships Friedli (2011a)  subjective well-being - how we feel about ourselves and our lives  social well-being - relationships and connections  sense of meaning or purpose
    5. 5. But definitional problems remain ... Mental wellbeing has become prominent in policy circles and in public discourse more generally, and in many areas, including health, public policy, social studies and work. Wellbeing is also presented as a general indicator of social and communal stability. However, there is still significant confusion in theory, policy and practice about how wellbeing, and other connected terms, such as, happiness, satisfaction, resilience, fulfillment and flourishing, and communal terms, such as stability, sustainability and assets, should be understood. (Weich and Tew, 2013)
    6. 6. Five ways to wellbeing (NEF, 2011)
    7. 7. Some further points of critique        Assets agenda – ‘psycho-social roll call’; material inequalities risk being ignored (Friedli, 2011) Promotes blaming people for their own disadvantage (ibid) Universal approach detracts attention from those most in need Medicalisation of learning (Lewis, 2012) Detracting from other curriculum areas Teaching well-being implies an emotional deficit (Ecclestone and Hayes, 2008) Are social and emotional and academic ‘effectiveness’ in schools necessarily complementary? (see Gray, 2012)
    8. 8. Programme 12.30-12.45: Introduction to the day 12.45-2.00. Session 1 Reinserting the social and the holistic: moving beyond individuals and diagnosis to a sociology of (mental) wellbeing, Dr Cath Quinn, Plymouth University Peninsula School of Medicine and Dentistry Intersections in Innovation; mindfulness-based therapies as part of the wellbeing agenda, Kate Spiegelhalter, University of Sussex. 2.00-2.20: BREAK 2.20-4.00pm: Session 2 Developing resilience in educational settings: Challenging policy discourses of ‘risk’ and ‘vulnerability’, Professor Kathryn Ecclestone, University of Sheffield. Governance and the excluded citizen; tensions among housing practitioners and the wider community, Allison Savory, Buckinghamshire New University. To make an army of illness? The politics of well-being, Dr Helen Spandler, UClan 4.00-4.10: BREAK 4.10-4.30: Overview, general discussion and close.
    9. 9. References          Aked, J. and Thompson, S. (2021), Five Ways to Wellbeing, New applications, new ways of thinking. NHS Confederation and NEF. Cole man, J. (2009), Wellbeing in schools, empirical measure or politician’s dream? Oxford Review of Education, 35(3): 281-92. Ecclestone, K. And Hayes, D. (2008), The dangerous rise of therapeutic education, London, Routledge. Friedli, L. (2011a), What we know about: mental health and wellbeing, In J. Foot (Ed.), What makes us healthy? The asset approach in practice: evidence, action, evaluation. Local Government Group: London, pp. 12-15. Friedli, L. (2011b), Always look on the bright side: The rise of assets based approaches in Scotland, Scottish Anti-Poverty Review, Winter, 11-15. Gray, J. (2012). Wellbeing Matters Too. Research Intelligence, 117, 30. Lewis, L. (2012), The capabilities approach, adult community learning and mental health, Community Development Journal, 47 (4): 522-537. NICE (2008), Promoting young people’s social and emotional well-being in secondary education: consultation on the evidence. London, NICE. Weich, S. and Tew, J. (2013), Mental Wellbeing, Public Mental Health and Recovery. Application for a MHRN Local Clinical Research Group.