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Northampton researcher exposes mental health cost of inequality

Exposure to inequalities in society can have a dramatic impact on peoples’ mental health, a top researcher from Northampton has found. 

Speaking at the start of National Inclusion Week, which kicks off on Monday, September 27, a team led by Dr Kieran Breen, Head of Research and Innovation at St Andrew’s Healthcare, has reported that inequalities experienced by people in their daily lives can have a huge impact on their mental health.

One patient, who was asked about inequalities they had experienced, said: “When you have been discriminated against for most of your life, you give up all hope of ever being seen as an equal.”

The majority of female patients at St Andrew’s who were included in a research study had experienced some form of inequality earlier in their lives. The paper is set to be published in the prestigious Journal of Forensic Practice.

Off the back of the findings, St Andrew’s has created a training programme to help staff become more aware of inequalities and how they can directly impact people. It has been designed to also help staff to adapt their approach when caring for patients, so they can help them address their issues.

The programme has already had very positive feedback and St Andrew’s is in discussions to roll it out to NHS providers across the East Midlands region. 

Dr Breen, who led the study, said: “Inequality can come in many different forms and certainly from our research, it would suggest that exposure to it from an early age can do long-term damage to a persons’ mental health.

“The majority of patients experienced not just one, but multiple inequalities over the course of their lives. Some of the main issues identified included experiencing a disrupted living environment, such as being in foster care or feeling unsafe at home.

“A lack of support from school and home was also another concern that was highlighted and showed that being supported while growing up can have a vital impact on a person’s overall well-being and mental health status.

“The message we want to get across to people is just be kind. You never know what is going on in someone’s life, so include and involve everyone around you, so as a community we can do all we can to prevent mental health issues spiralling out of control.”

Dr Paul Wallang, the Associate Medical Director of Research and Innovation at St Andrew’s, added: “The aim of this study was to explore how inequalities can impact our mental health.

“Facing inequality can re-enforce someone’s belief that they are second class, not-deserving and invisible and that their life doesn’t matter. It can lead to feelings of hopelessness. But when the nature of suffering is identified it can be avoided and remedied. We want to give people hope.”

To help raise awareness about the importance of inequalities among staff and members of the public, the Northampton-based hospital has also released a three-minute video. It features patient and staff voices who explain how they have experienced inequality in their life.

National Inclusion Week is designed to celebrate everyday inclusion in all its forms. Now in its ninth year the annual event brings organisations together from across the globe to celebrate, share and inspire inclusion practices. A series of events to promote equality and inclusion across the charity will be hosted over the course of the seven day campaign.

Copy provided by St Andrew’s Hospital

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