Skip to main content
KBS_Icon_questionmark link-ico
Busy crowds at London underground ;

World Mental Health Day: understanding the role of our society

ESRC Centre for Society and Mental Health

10 October 2023

On World Mental Health Day, the ESRC Centre for Society and Mental Health is highlighting the need to understand how societal systems, structures and inequities influence mental health.

The theme for this year’s WMHD is ‘Mental health is a universal human right’ calling for everyone to have the right to be protected from mental health risks, the right to accessible, acceptable, and good quality care, and the right to freedom, independence and inclusion in the community.

Central to the concept of human rights is that these are rights that cannot be taken away and are protected by law. However human rights are often restricted and, in the case of mental health, this can be in subtle ways that are embedded in our societal fabric and are not always questioned.

One of the aims of the ESRC Centre for Society and Mental Health is to improve our understanding of how socio-economic contexts influence mental health and to use this knowledge to challenge the status-quo and bring us nearer to making mental health a universal human right.

We work with the most vulnerable groups in our society to produce research that is done in partnership with the voices that matter so we can help create impact within our communities, schools, services and policy.

In this news story we summarise some of the key insights from our research that we hope can bring us nearer to making mental health a universal human right.

On World Mental Health Day this year, we want to highlight how social structures, systems, and services influence whether we can or cannot live our lives with good mental health. We believe that for mental health to become a universal human right we need to understand these influences from the inside out. We need to start with the knowledge and insight of the groups that are most vulnerable; and we need to use innovative research methods to provide novel insights in this area and support change.– Professor Craig Morgan, co-director ESRC Centre for Society and Mental Health

Refugee mental health and place

Researchers from the Centre are exploring how place influences refugee mental health. ‘Place’ is inherent in the experience of every refugee and the research of the Refugee Mental Health and Place Network is showing how it affects mental health and what policy in this area must consider.

In a recent blog, Dr Guntars Ermansons and our co-director Professor Hanna Kienzler explore the subject in relation to recent policy decisions and resettlement schemes. They call for more consideration of how safe and socially meaningful environments can have therapeutic effects, reduce loneliness, and mitigate homesickness, depression and trauma which has been embedded from experiences before migration.

Parents with mental health conditions and social care

This piece, entitled A Day in Family Court, was created by Laura E. Fischer and Sullivan Holderbach of Traumascapes in partnership with one of our lived experience advisors.
The women who took part in the lived experience advisory group were invited to work with an artist to develop a piece of artwork that captured their experiences relating to the topic. This piece, entitled A Day in Family Court, was created by Laura E. Fischer and Sullivan Holderbach of Traumascapes in partnership with one of our lived experience advisors.

A new review from the ESRC Centre of Society and Mental Health in partnership with people with lived experience has identified a downward spiral of service interventions for parents with mental health conditions that could end in children being removed from their families.

An analysis of the research in this area found that the support parents received typically focused on their symptoms and parenting deficits, and was manualised, inflexible and crisis driven. Alongside this, under-resourced systems limited the options open to practitioners, and some felt forced to take decisions that they knew would cause harm but were powerless to change.

A blog by the research group calls for services that recognise the impact of poverty on parents and communities and are more aware of trauma in the care that they provide.

Changing the narrative through creative projects

At the ESRC Centre for Society and Mental Health we try to bring the experiences, voices and stories of people into the heart of our work. This is by involving peer researchers and partnership working but also through creative projects that enable people to express their experiences so they can influence the thinking in these areas.

These have included the ‘Not My Shame’ project which was an art-therapy initiative that facilitated healing by recipients of abuse. Five participants shed feelings of shame and self-blame by producing poems and other creative outputs during creative writing workshops, facilitated by Andreena Leeanne. Following this, a zine was created by Zoe Thompson (founder of Sweet-Thang zine).


scoring MH
Illustration to accompany BBC Radio 3 programme 'Scoring Mental Health' by Stephanie Bates.

In a recent music project, Professor Sally Marlow brought together a producer with a group of people with lived experience of mental illness to co-compose new work to explore a whole spectrum of symptoms and changing feelings. Some of the contributors were from our Lived Experienced Advisory Board (LEAB) and the work was performed and the process discussed on the BBC Radio 3 programme Scoring Mental Health.

Mutuality: whose voice counts in social science research

The concept of mutuality in global mental health aims to produce knowledge more equitably. With funding, convening, and publishing power still concentrated in institutions in the Global North, efforts to decolonise global mental health emphasise the need for mutual learning instead of transfers of knowledge that go in a singular direction between different experts. 

A new study involving ESRC Centre for Society and Mental Health researchers, including Dr Dörte Bemme and Dr Tessa Roberts, drew on insights from an online mutual learning process over 8 months between 39 community-based and academic collaborators working in 24 countries. The result was an innovative approach that calls for four shifts in research.

Experiences of welfare system and mental health

Our researchers are investigating how the welfare benefits system can be improved to better support people with health conditions and disabilities. This insight is vital to understand how the system and changes in the tools it uses, such as work capacity allowance, affect mental health.

We are using qualitative research methods to provide in-depth insight into people’s experiences. In this blog Dr Annie Irvine and Cassie Lovelock discuss the themes that are emerging and how the language used by claimants with health problems frequently conjures images of a warzone. There is a need to examine why we talk about the welfare system in this way and reflect on how this informs the changes that need to happen.   

Four quotes:

Responding to the report: ‘A mentally healthy nation’

Recently the Centre for Mental Health released its report ‘A Mentally Healthy Nation’ which outlined their call for ‘mental health in all policies’ to embed a new way of making decisions that will benefit all.

The recommendations spanned issues of equality, prevention and support and chimed with the work of the ESRC Centre for Society and Mental Health. In our message of support for the report we provide examples of our research to strengthen its proposals.

In partnership with communities we hope that, by looking at how the larger societal picture influences our mental health, we can help enable every individual to lead a life with good mental health.

In this story

Craig Morgan

Craig Morgan

Professor of Social Epidemiology

Hanna Kienzler

Hanna Kienzler

Professor of Global Health

Guntars  Ermansons

Guntars Ermansons

Lecturer in Social Science, Health & Medicine

Sally  Marlow

Sally Marlow

Professor of Practice in Public Understanding of Mental Health Research

Angela Sweeney

Angela Sweeney

Senior Lecturer in User Led Research

Billie Lever Taylor

Billie Lever Taylor

HEE/NIHR Advanced Clinical Practitioner Academic Fellow

Annie Irvine

Annie Irvine

Research Fellow

Cassandra  Lovelock

Cassandra Lovelock

Qualitative Research Assistant

Dörte  Bemme

Dörte Bemme

Lecturer in Society and Mental Health

Tessa Roberts

Tessa Roberts

Post-Doctoral Research Fellow

Latest news