Hundreds of councillors from all 32 boroughs and the City of London have pledged to improve mental health in the city after taking part in Thrive LDN training.
The series of training sessions were funded by the Mayor of London, to support Londoners recover from the mental health impacts of the pandemic and face the cost-of-living crisis. This comes as thousands of Londoners pledge to become champions for positive wellbeing where they are empowered to act to improve their own and their communities’ wellbeing.
Thrive LDN commissioned mental health and local government expert Ed Davie to design and deliver the training as a means of supporting local leaders and the communities they represent.
Over the last 18 months 532 councillors, 28% of all London councillors, took part in the two-hour sessions which defined mental health and illness and gave evidence-based advice on looking after individual and community mental health.
In feedback 94% of trainees rated the training ‘Excellent/Good’ with many councillors commenting that the training would help improve their own mental health and change policy in their councils to support better mental health in their communities.
The training has been put forward to be evaluated by the National Institute for Health Research and, separately, by a King’s College London masters’ student. If researchers find that the training led to beneficial policy changes in councils which have had a discernible benefit to people’s mental health, then a wider rollout will likely be explored.
Dr Tom Coffey OBE, Mayoral Health Advisor, said: “I’m pleased that hundreds of councillors across the capital have taken part in this vital training to help tackle metal health challenges in their boroughs.
“As more and more Londoners commit to championing positive wellbeing in their communities, it is imperative that political leaders set the precedent and feel more confident in having these important conversations, as we work towards our goal of having 250,000 wellbeing champions in the city by 2025.
“Londoners continue to face significant challenges and pressures and the Mayor and I will continue doing all we can to support those who are at risk of poor mental health as we build a fairer and better London for all.”
Training designer Ed Davie, who works for the Centre for Mental Health charity and was himself a Lambeth councillor for 12 years, said: “It has been a real privilege to get round every single London borough and the City of London and hear the enthusiasm that local leaders have for improving mental health in their communities. I am glad the feedback is so positive and look forward to seeing the results of further evaluation of the training.”
Attending the training session held for Islington councillors, Councillor Kaya Comer-Schwartz, Leader of Islington Borough Council and Thrive LDN Co-Lead, said: “I’m really delighted that Thrive LDN and the Mayor of London are working to support London councillors and bringing forward training that helps them work through what’s needed to have that emotional support.
“We know that over the last few years being particularly difficult… it’s taken a toll on all of our mental health and resilience. [The training] has really helped us work through the many challenges our boroughs face and the kind of wider societal impacts that will have a long-lasting effect on our communities.”
During the training sessions, usually held online, councillors learn the basics of evolutionary psychology. Ed Davie explained: “We explored how humans have spent most of their existence in small tribes, hunting and gathering in the natural world. It means our minds and bodies are not always well adapted to modern, urban living and that this can lead to stress and risks to our mental health. By attempting to replicate the high levels of exercise, connection to others and the natural world that our ancestors enjoyed we can offset some of those stressors.”
Councillors who participated also learnt about endocrinology, the science of the hormonal chemical messengers in our bodies than can be stimulated to make us feel better. For example, spending time with friends and family, exercising, ideally in sunny, green spaces and even eating spicy food and taking cold showers can increase serotonin, endorphin and other hormones than can make us feel more positive.
Finally public mental health in a local government context is explained. Davie added: “This science shows that mental health is influenced by poverty, discrimination, housing, pollution, green space, alcohol, diet, exercise, and other factors.
“By using town planning, alcohol and gambling licensing, and hiring and buying powers which councillors have access to, then we can improve these factors. For example, creating better walking and cycling routes, building more genuinely affordable homes, restricting alcohol off licences, getting Living Wage accredited and buying and hiring more from vulnerable local people.”
From the training, scores of councillors committed to pursuing policies and considering local plans on how best to support people’s mental health. Evaluators will be seeing if this happened and what benefit it has had across London’s communities.
Contact Ed Davie if you would like to learn more: firstname.lastname@example.org