Wellbeing at Bristol
March 2023 | by Jael Williams
Mental health and wellbeing
Bristol has been at the centre of much robust discussion about diversity in recent years, so it is to the City’s credit that it is targeting diversity proactively with investment. The City Council has made a committed effort to ‘grow the power’ – in their words, of organisations that represent people facing the greatest barriers in society – especially those likely to experience hate or discrimination, from refugees to disabled people. It has combined seven of its smaller grants to create Bristol Impact Fund, with the emphasis on…. impact.
We are supporting all of these 41 partners (as they are called by the city) to evaluate their projects, and our colleagues in the communities department to evaluate the programme as a whole. The intention being that bringing them together will make an impact bigger than the sum of the parts.
One of the outcomes that many of the organisations have in their sights, not surprisingly is mental health and wellbeing. One of the things we look at (coming from SROI practice) is the idea of a ‘chain of events’ – do the activities and achievements stack up logically, so that the claims organisations are making are credible?
We’ve had an interesting conversation about where mental health and wellbeing fits in Bristol’s chain of events. Is it the end game? In my view yes. No outcome has greater value than wellbeing for an individual – everything else, health, jobs, etc, are means to that end. But colleagues at the council and in the organisations have made the case that mental health is a resource that is needed much earlier, in order to have the wherewithal to for example have ‘agency’, the ability to do things for yourself.
And of course, both are true. We are talking about the different types of wellbeing that Seligman describes so well in his TED talk ‘The New Era of Psychology’.
He describes three types of wellbeing that are all valuable to an individual; the individual moments of happiness you get from treating yourself, the general sense of satisfaction that your life is going in the right direction, and the quite profound feeling that what you do with your time is worthwhile. In psychology language, these are called evaluative, hedonic, and eudaimonic wellbeing. They are incrementally valuable, but that shouldn’t obscure the fact that many moments of happiness, or positive affect as Sonja Lynbiomorsky describes in her work including ‘The How of Happiness’, are properly valuable. They can make a significant difference to your mood.
In 2011 the Office of National Statistics (an organisation of which I am a bit of a groupie, based in Wales they are a bunch of really nice people as well as being phenomenally clever) consulted on a set of national questions that would understand the nation’s wellbeing (rather proves my point about the nice people). MB Associates was working with the Happy Museum Project at the time, and we stuck in our two pennies worth.
The questions that resulted really are quite brilliant, because they ask about those three types of wellbeing in (almost) plain language. How happy were you yesterday? How satisfied are you with your life nowadays? And to what extent do you feel that the things you do in your life are worthwhile? The fourth question that makes up what is now called the ONS4 is about levels of anxiety. Sometimes, when we are taking an ‘asset based’ approach to wellbeing, we leave this question out.
What’s great about this approach, which was initiated by a conservative Government under David Cameron, is that that those questions have been asked now for ten years and are regularly analysed by different areas and different personal situations. For example, the average anxiety score for Bristol in 2021/22 was 3.38, while average happiness was at 7.25, life satisfaction 7.37 and average worthwhileness 7.49 . So, if you are working on a project that expects to improve wellbeing, you can ask those questions and compare your participants with local people when they start, and when they finish their work with you.
So how the conversation went with Bristol colleagues was that services would hope to see people progress through these types of wellbeing, gradually gaining more and more in depth or valuable wellbeing – from happiness to life satisfaction and feeling worthwhile. The Community Resources Manager described this as a spiral or virtuous circle.
Which then led us to a real-life discussion about two steps forward and one step back, which is so often the experience of someone embarking on behaviour change. We talked about our use of the four stages model, based on unconscious incompetence and that things tend to get worse before they get better. But that’s the subject of another blog.
In the meanwhile, the more we can do to really understand an individual’s different experience of mental health and wellbeing and the journey it takes them on, the more we can support them (and of course ourselves) to make the world a better place.
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