We need to move beyond how we view mental health,” says Hamish Elvidge. “We’re eliminating the stigma of mental illness, there’s more help available. But now we must take a whole population approach, so everyone understands the importance of emotional wellbeing and good mental health and how to keep well – and position this at the heart of society.”
Hamish is passionate about reaching young people and those who look after their wellbeing, especially in education settings. In September 2009, his 23-year-old son took his own life, a tragedy that prompted his family to launch The Matthew Elvidge Trust, to help young people identify signs of anxiety and depression, and encourage them to seek help.
“Society has become better at being reactive and supporting people with a problem,” he says. “But it’s not a long-term solution. We must now be proactive and invest in true prevention – that means understanding what good mental health is, why it’s vital and how to keep well.”
The Trust’s main focus is young people in universities and schools. It supports, with grants, advice or both, organisations including Student Minds, the Students Against Depression website and Nightline. It has also established the Partnership for Emotional Wellbeing and Mental Health in Schools and supports the new Universities UK whole-university approach.
“Our aim is to help everyone, even pre-school age, learn how to build and maintain good mental health – learning new things, taking notice of the world around you, getting enough sleep, eating properly, exercising, connecting with people. We need to build strategies to help us cope with life’s ups and downs.”
Elvidge, who began his accountancy career with articles at Crowe Clark Whitehill and retired 35 years later in 2010 as finance director and change director at Sainsbury’s, says it’s imperative businesses also take the same whole population view. “Employers are reacting better, but again we need to invest – workplaces, Jobcentres, need to be environments that proactively educate and encourage people to achieve and maintain good mental health. Aside from its vital importance to our personal wellbeing, it helps us to make better decisions, improve relationships and be more productive.”
And Elvidge, who lives with his wife Linda in Hartley Wintney, Hampshire, is determined to build a longer-term strategy. “Theresa May talks about ‘building resilience’ in children and has announced that by 2020 one teacher in every school will be trained in mental health first aid. This is an encouraging first step, but we really need a long-term vision with emotional wellbeing, good mental health, and providing the right support, embedded in everything schools do.”