Improving wellbeing and mental health in Reading – Wellbeing Forum report

Zoe O'Kill
Author's position
Community Journalist
Primary interest
Our new Community Journalist, Zoe O’Kill, attended the Wellbeing Forum on 12 December 2018. She reflects on the voluntary sector’s commitment to improving wellbeing and mental health in Reading.
Voluntary sector support for wellbeing and mental health in Reading

When I attended the Wellbeing Forum, I was immediately impressed by an outstanding group of people who feel very passionate about making a change to wellbeing and mental health in Reading. I heard about organisations offering amazing support to people that really need it. With mental health issues rapidly on the rise in today’s society, it was encouraging and reassuring to see people trying to improve and support the community. I listened to strong opinions on the current situation in the voluntary and community sector, and how we can make the support for people’s mental health and wellbeing better in the Reading and Berkshire West area.

What the Forum covered

The forum was split into three sections. First, there was an outline of the joint Reading Voluntary Action (RVA) and Age UK Berkshire Social Prescribing service. Second, a chance for organisations to voice their opinions on the draft Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) Strategy from Berkshire West Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG). Third, the proposal of a new approach, called Three Conversations, by Reading Borough Council’s Adult Social Care team.

Social Prescribing

RVA and Age UK Berkshire spoke about how their Social Prescribing service promotes positive change in people’s lives. Social Prescribing is a chance for people over the age of 18 to be linked with existing, non-medical, community activities to improve their health and wellbeing. You can be referred by your GP, other healthcare practitioners or a social worker. Social prescribing helps a diverse range of people: whether you’re suffering from depression and anxiety in your early twenties, or are feeling socially isolated later in life, there is an organisation that can help you. For some people, medication isn’t the answer to their problems: social activities and support groups are sometimes all someone needs to give value and purpose back to their life.

Draft Strategy from Berkshire West CCG

When the draft Berkshire West CCG VCS Strategy was discussed, it faced a lot of strong views from representatives of wellbeing organisations. The aim of this strategy is for voluntary organisations to help prevent people from being hospitalised, and support them in their pathway to a better life. Voluntary organisations felt that unity and good communication is required in order for this strategy to be successful. I spoke to representatives from Depression Xpression and Citizens Advice and heard about the great work they are doing to support mental health and wellbeing in the area. It seems that the organisations are already contributing a lot of great and helpful support to people. Communication between organisations and supporting each other would create a network and community that has the potential to create a vast amount of positive change. I hope that post-forum, the CCG and voluntary and community sector will continue their discussion and work together to create a service that could really help the residents of Berkshire West .

Three Conversations

Finally, the Three Conversations approach was introduced by Natalie Madden from Adult Social Care at Reading Borough Council. The methodology behind it is very similar to social prescribing. There are three separate conversations they can have with people to offer them support. Conversation One is about listening and referring the person in need to a community group in the local area. Conversation Two is for people in crisis. Its aim is to create an action plan and work closely with that person in their recovery. Conversation Three often leads on from Conversation Two and is about helping the person to build a better life. The conversations are provided by the Advice and Wellbeing Hub at Reading Borough Council. They are accessible to anyone and can take place over the phone or face to face. The presentation led to more constructive criticism from members of the voluntary and community sector and more encouragement to build a stronger network and communication system between organisations.

Potential for strengthened communications and support systems

The forum was a productive and helpful opportunity to discuss issues within the sector and how to improve them. The work organisations are doing to support people already is commendable and inspiring. Strengthened communication between organisations has the potential to build a huge and great support system for people, at a time where there is such a great need for it. It was truly encouraging to see the work and support already going on to support people’s wellbeing and how it can be enhanced even further.