Marie-Amélie Viatte: Link Up a great boost to mental health

Mental health has been a taboo for a long time. It is encouraging to see the topic going up the agenda and becoming a subject of conversation, not just amongst professionals but with family and friends too. It is ­slowly but surely being looked at for its universal relevance and central importance to our lives.

Happy Days Community Hub for Link Up in the Gallatown, Kirkcaldy, Bite and Blether cafe, L-R Roxy Delaney, Stacey Duff and Jeanie Dews, all community volunteers.
Happy Days Community Hub for Link Up in the Gallatown, Kirkcaldy, Bite and Blether cafe, L-R Roxy Delaney, Stacey Duff and Jeanie Dews, all community volunteers.

Inspiring Scotland’s Link Up ­programme is integral to our efforts to address poverty and disadvantage. It lays the necessary foundations by championing what is really important in all our lives, nothing less than what lies at the heart of being human.

Rather than focusing on fixing what seems like a rising tide of poor mental health, we looked at protecting and promoting those things that give us good mental health. The benefits of being in nature and getting some physical exercise are key and well-evidenced but possibly even more essential, and yet often ignored or taken for granted, is our need to ­connect with others, belong and have purpose.

Over the last five years, Link Up has worked in 12 of Scotland’s most socio-economically deprived neighbourhoods and enabled nearly 18,000 people to come together, connect, build relationships, feel they belong to their community, and develop a sense of purpose. We did not set out to improve mental health but have ­witnessed first-hand how fundamental social connectedness is to everyone’s health – mental and physical – and the critical role of Link Up in facilitating that.

The success of Link Up has, for a large part, come from that dogged determination to be mindful of pace and scale. In a world where time is money and speed is supposedly key to success and delivered to us through every bit of technology, it is all the more important to slow down.

We are taking the time to get to know people, to nurture relationships, and to support the development of a wide range of activities – all at a scale and a pace that enable trust and reciprocity to grow.

Our workers are genuinely interested in people’s stories and listen to them. They naturally adopt a highly authentic and human response. They empathise and bring practical and emotional support to deal with hardship and the toughest of challenges and, just as importantly, they share in the joys and celebrate the successes. They provide support directly to individuals, but also create ­positive ripples in the wider community, ­generating supportive networks that empower people to help themselves and to help one another.

What Link Up has shown is that carefully facilitating welcoming social spaces and places – indoor and outdoor – where people can meet, enjoy each other’s company, and be inspired to join in community-led action must be at the heart of our efforts to promoting health and wellbeing, and reduce inequalities.

Harnessing people’s interests and skills and encouraging those to be shared offers that opportunity to find your gift and give it away, thereby fostering that all-important sense of purpose.

To give is to receive and can only happen when we’re connected to others. Stimulating social participation increases community empowerment and resilience, strengthens social capital and local economies, and, in turn, allows people to deal with complex challenges, including around mental and physical health, and increase ‘copability’.

We’ve showed it with Link Up: participants get energised to effect change for themselves, their family and their community. They learn to trust; trust in themselves that they can make a change, trust the workers that they will be there to support them, trust in one another to form a whole that is stronger than the sum of the parts. This creates greater self-belief and higher aspirations.

By fostering greater community connectedness, Inspiring Scotland’s Link Up is the ­catalyst for greater health and wellbeing. What’s more, it’s not rocket science and doesn’t cost the Earth; so what are we waiting for?

Marie-Amélie Viatte, Link Up performance advisor at Inspiring Scotland.