Women across England and Wales will get vital mental health support as part of a major new programme launched by mental health charity Mind and Agenda, the alliance for women and girls at risk.
The £1.8 million programme, called Women Side by Side, will increase the availability of high quality, community-based peer support for women through around 70 projects delivered by specialist organisations across the country.
The projects will particularly benefit women experiencing multiple disadvantages – for example, those experiencing mental health problems, homelessness, drug and alcohol misuse, abuse and violence, family breakdown, offending or a combination of these.
Around one in five (19 per cent) women experience a common mental health problem, such as anxiety or depression. More than one in two women with a mental health problem has experienced some form of violence and abuse.
Five new hubs (four in England and one in Wales), which will act as learning centres supporting every project, are already up and running. The hubs, run by women’s organisations, are using their specialist expertise and links to community organisations to make sure all services understand and respond to women’s specific needs, including their experiences of trauma and abuse.
Research has shown that peer support – getting support from people who have similar experiences – improves people’s wellbeing and helps them manage their mental health problem, enabling them to choose what kind of support works best for them. Peer support is also a good investment and can help decrease other healthcare costs, for example by reducing hospital admissions by people with mental health problems.
Andrea Woodside, 49, from London said:
”My mental health journey has been like that of so many other people – challenging, life-changing, and often an incredibly lonely experience. I continue to live with the impact of sexual abuse in my childhood as sadly many women do and I am also in the process of recovering from the not uncommon experience of intimate partner abuse. The road to recovery from traumatic life events and its impact on your mental health and wellbeing can often feel isolating, I regularly meet other women experiencing the same loneliness of their own path to recovery.
“My experience of developing peer support programmes in workplaces has taught me that this kind of support can help to normalise the experience of trauma as well as mental health problems, and at the same time, empower people to share tools for coping and recovering.
“The challenges myself and other women face can be quite different from those faced by men, and peer support is a critical part of the recovery process. Having the space to share our fears, anxieties, and wisdom with others who have been there goes a long way to promote our wellness on all levels.”
Sophie Corlett, Director of External Relations at Mind, said:
“We’re really excited to be co-leading the Women Side by Side programme throughout England and Wales. This pioneering peer support initiative will offer a safe, non-judgemental and collaborative space for women from all walks of life who need support for their mental health – whatever the reason. Peer support can be a major platform for people’s recovery. Sharing your experiences with someone you can identify with can be really beneficial, especially for those of us with mental health problems.
“We know that the journey to good mental health can be difficult, especially for women who have faced traumatic life events. Peer support is one option that can be offered to make sure people stay well in their communities. It increases people’s sense of choice and hope, and improves people’s wellbeing, which is why we believe community-based peer support services should be offered alongside statutory mental health services across England and Wales.”
Jemima Olchawski, Chief Executive of Agenda, said:
“Mental health problems among women are on the rise, yet too many are unable to get the support they need when they need it. The new projects will help to increase the availability of mental health peer support that recognises and responds to women’s specific needs and experiences.
“Poor mental health among women is often closely linked to difficult life experiences like abuse and poverty, which is why this programme’s focus on reaching the most disadvantaged and marginalised women is vital. By combining the expertise of Mind, Agenda, women’s organisations and women with lived experience of mental health problems, we believe this important work will make a real difference to the lives of thousands of women.”
Examples of the projects include:
- Clean Break – a women’s theatre organisation, which works in prisons and other communities across the UK.
- The Survivors’ Forum – a safe online community providing peer support for women affected by domestic abuse, from the Women’s Aid Federation of England.
- The Ethiopian Women Empowerment Group (EWEG) which will provide peer support to address mental health problems in women affected by the Grenfell disaster. The project will predominantly work with Black, Minority Ethnic & Refugee (BAMER) women from Ethiopian, Moroccan, Egyptian, Eritrean, Somalian and Asian communities who are isolated as a result of language and other barriers, and who struggle to access mainstream services.