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The International Day of People with Disabilities: 'Not all disabilities are visible'



The International Day of People with Disabilities is on 3 December. This year’s theme is about raising awareness that not all disabilities can be seen; but that all disabilities, whether ‘hidden’ or not, can impact significantly on people’s lives and are equally important.  

Under the Equality Act 2010, the definition of a disability is “a physical or mental impairment that has a 'substantial' and 'long-term' negative effect on [a person’s] ability to do normal daily activities.” 

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) World Report on Disability, 15% of the world’s population, or more than one billion people, are living with disability. Of this number, it’s estimated 450 million are living with a mental or neurological condition - and two-thirds of these people will not seek help or talk about it, largely due to stigma and a fear of discrimination.

We need to change this, but how? 

A simple but meaningful way we can change this is by improving awareness, so that disability is easier to talk about.

There are numerous campaigns every year that help us to do this. In November for example Men's Mental Health Month offered tips on how to get through when times are tough, including:

  • Exercising, even if it's just a short walk.
  • Listening to motivational music or songs that remind you of good times or friends.
  • Connecting with a hobby or interest, whether online during the COVID-19 pandemic or meeting face to face once we get through the pandemic.
  • Or just... talk to a mate.

To view other mental health campaigns visit the Mental Health Foundation and think about how often you get involved with these campaigns. Even just talking about them at work or with friends and family means that you are raising awareness and letting people know that it's alright to talk about these things.

Talking about mental health helps cultural norms to change. 

As individuals we cannot, single-handed, change institutions, but we can advocate and educate at a grassroot level, letting people know that it’s ‘OK not to be OK!’ We can support others when they need someone to talk to, review how our words and actions may hurt others, focus on positives and get the facts.

Men’s health and North Somerset - a local movement

In Somerset, Neil Harris is helping men to change the way they think about their mental health and wellbeing by setting up a Men’s Talk Club. At Curo we manage the Community Connect service in partnership with the West of England Rural Network - the service works with people over 50 who might be isolated or lonely and supports initiatives like Talk Club. We recognise that we're living through difficult times, and that can bring pressures that impact on our wellbeing. Men might not always be comfortable talking about these issues and these often-hidden pressures can cause people to feel stressed, depressed or down. 

The Talk Club is a movement that’s about helping men to change how we think about mental health and stress, and creating a safe space for men to come together, talk and gain support.

Neil says: “Men’s mental health is an issue. A massive issue. And yet it is still not really talked about – there is still huge stigma about asking for help and support if you are a man. The pandemic may well have shone a light on the importance of mental health broadly but even before this the data is stark. In this country 12 men a day take their own lives. One every two hours. In 2019, there were 5,691 suicides registered in England and Wales, around ¾ of these were men.

"We all recognise that we need to work together and that if we do, we can make a real difference to the lives of men in our local area.”

If you want to know more about this movement please visit Talk Club.

At Curo we take mental health seriously, especially in today’s climate. Colleagues are supported to have a healthy work-life balance, to join wellbeing chats and to attend mental health presentations to be more aware and informed. These are often facilitated by colleagues, not professionals, and I had the opportunity recently to co-run a men’s health wellbeing event. By getting staff to run events, we take the stigma out of the subject and normalise talking about things and supporting each other.

For our North Somerset customers and community, we have many services to support those in need, including: 

  • Working with Primary Care Networks and health providers to help patients get support in their communities, in partnership with GPs.
  • Temporary accommodation services for those who are homeless or are having mental health problems.
  • Community Connect which supports socially isolated adults over the age of 50 using the five ways to wellbeing to inspire them to connect, physically or virtually, to their community. 

I’m fortunate to be one of the Wellbeing Workers who support and advocate for those in need.

Helen Yeo, who works in Public Health for North Somerset Council, highlights that while some disabilities such as anxiety or depression may be difficult for others to recognise or understand, they can be debilitating, affecting everyday life for those who suffer from them. 

Helen says: “Sadly mental health problems are not rare. Nor are they exclusive to one ‘type’ of person. Prior to the Coronavirus outbreak a survey carried out by Public Health England showed 84 per cent of people in the South West have experienced early signs of poor mental health including anxiety, stress, low mood or trouble sleeping in the past 12 months.

"North Somerset Council are keen supporters of Time to Change, England's most ambitious campaign to end the stigma and discrimination faced by people who experience mental health problems.”

Please take the time to look at some of the links I’ve shared here. We can all do something to help people access support and to empower them to live with their mental health disability, especially men.

International Day of People with Disabilities

Talk Club

Mental Health Foundation

Time to Change

Community Connect

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