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Mental Health Awareness Week: Moving, or a movement?

18 May 2024
By Claire Webster, SCIE Practice Development Consultant

Monday 13 May to Sunday 19 May is Mental Health Awareness week and this year’s theme is movement.

On a personal level, I use movement as a means to support my own mental health in the form of running, having joined a running club around two years ago. It has been a life-changing experience for me, meeting new people and achieving new goals, including a number of half-marathons and hopefully soon, my first marathon.

However, as a campaigner for better human rights-based practice for everyone, I want to take this opportunity to raise awareness of another important consideration in the area of mental health (where more than movement is required) and that is intersectionality and experience for autistic people, and people with learning disabilities, often facing inequalities, in the mental health system.

Image of SCIE employee Claire Webster

We have recently supported a number of related projects. During our work, we pulled together research to present to strategic leads and commissioners about inequalities in mental health support, this includes:

  1. As of June 2023, 143,119 people were waiting for an autism assessment in England, new NHS data has revealed. This is a 47% increase in the number of people waiting in just one year.
  2. 79% of autistic adults will experience poor mental health with 50% of autistic adults experiencing depression.
  3. In total 2,035 autistic people and people with learning disabilities are in inpatient mental health hospitals in England.
  4. 1,310 (64%) of these people are autistic.
  5. There are 215 under 18s in inpatient units that are autistic or have a learning disability. Of these, 93% are autistic.

There has long been a call for change, including discussion of Mental Health Act Reform, but without a shift in the way we currently approach mental health support, for autistic people and people with learning disabilities, that it is unlikely to achieve the changes that campaigners, organisations and individuals are asking for.

A movement in mental health approaches: Intersectionality

With evidence also of racial and ethnic inequalities in mental health and some discussion on late diagnosis, and mis-diagnosis before diagnosing autism in women and girls, I have considered the need to look at mental health, autism and learning disabilities through the lens of intersectionality, looking at the experience of autistic people and people with learning disabilities, in recognition of the potential multitude of additional inequalities faced by this group.

Research in Practice describes intersectionality as a framework for examining, deconstructing and challenging the idea that parts of a person’s identity are experienced as discrete categories.

Through this lens, I have considered the need to look at identity, how and when people seek autism diagnosis, and how health and social care support can work together, to support individuals who are asking for ‘mental health support’. With complex legal frameworks at play, including the Mental Health Act, Mental Capacity Act, Care Act, The National Health Service Act, Human Rights Act and many others, I am currently working on supporting organisations to understand how a person may present as needing support from the mental health system, how this translates into commissioning needs, now and for the future, and how the current system can align to offer support within current approaches, while we await the wider reform that is in discussion.

I have plenty more to learn, more evidence to gather and more importantly, more people to work with, who are directly impacted by the current mental health, health and social care, system.

With many organisations sharing research and guidance on good practice, I hope to continue to support organisations to embed these, with additional demographic and intersectional considerations each area will undoubtedly require.

If you would like to get in contact to discuss how we can support your organisation please email us:

Despite the Care Act’s impact, there’s a palpable sense that the transformation of services is still ongoing. Implementation of its provisions has been challenging and incomplete, leaving many ambitions unrealised. Today, the reality for many seeking to access social care services is one of frustration and inequality.

A major challenge has been funding, which has not kept up with demand for social care. Over the years, local authorities’ budgets have been squeezed, piling pressure on an overstretched social care system. With rising costs of care, fewer people now receive state funded support for their care needs.

The workforce remains unstable, with higher turnover than other industries. Morale among social care professionals has fallen as they find themselves with more work to do, but with less time and resources. In some cases, tasks like providing accessible information and carrying out care assessments have been reduced to mere signposting.

Despite these challenges and ongoing pressures, there has been a longstanding lack of appetite by the main political parties to address the root causes, particularly how care is funded. For people to experience the quality of what they need and deserve, we must also change the way social care is organised, including exploring the potential for new service models and the role of innovation.

Recent calls for revisiting the balance of responsibilities between individuals and the state open the door to reshaping the narrative about care work to reflect its skilled nature and its value to society.

With emerging policies, innovations, and campaigns, there’s hope for a fairer and more equitable social care system. As we look ahead, the Act’s core principles remain our guiding star at SCIE, driving our commitment to improving social care for all.

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