There’s been plenty of evidence this week to suggest that the UK is suffering from very poor mental health. 

The injection of funds promised by David Cameron to help boost NHS mental health services is a welcome development, but it still raises the question: why are we so unhappy as a nation in the first place?  Well, it seems to start quite early on in life. An international survey comparing the happiness of 8 year olds finds England’s youngsters languishing near the bottom of the table.

Inequality goes a long way towards explaining our unhappy state of mind. In an unequal society it’s much harder to shore up your own personal sense of worth, and people are more likely to employ “dominance” strategies (competing aggressively, bullying, even violence) rather than more affiliative strategies such as co-operation, kindness and support. This environment is particularly hard for children to bear, and its effects can be long-lasting. It is worth noting that in the new study from the University of York, our 8 year olds worried a lot about their bodies and how they looked. This is both depressing and a worrying sign of massive status anxiety kicking in very early on.

There is also a clear economic case for reducing inequality here. The costs of addressing poor mental health after the fact are huge. Prevention would be better than cure. A gentler social terrain for all of us to navigate would go a long way to reducing levels of stress, anxiety and worse in the UK which, in turn, would reduce the demand for later interventions. 

Ultimately, we need a fairer society, one where children and adults feel they can hold their heads up and look at others as equals and not feel judged or discriminated against. We need a more cohesive and caring society, one where we have a bit more time for each other, and not the current rats-in-a-sack “war of all against all” that quite clearly produces so many walking wounded in our playgrounds, workplaces and society at large. 

Bill Kerry, Supporters & Local Groups Manager