I recall sitting in the conservatory of the Pembroke Estate Management office where Lorraine and Felicity spoke avidly of the DeSTRESS study. Their passion struck a mighty chord. Just how pertinent was it that two academics from Exeter were talking to staff of a tenant-managed housing estate in a city nearly 50 miles away from their base? To be honest, it was totally pertinent.
Many, many moons ago, when I attended my university interview, I was asked: “What would you do if you found out that the majority of mums in the community were being prescribed anti-depressants?” I responded with, !Try to talk to the respective GPs about why it was thought that anti-depressants were the solution to the mums’ problems.” The DeSTRESS study encompasses everything I thought then and now about life on anti-depressants and the possible glorious future of life without.
As an accredited Mental Health First Aid, mental health and wellbeing awareness trainer and former health and social care lecturer, I am well aware of the links between poor mental health and social isolation, unemployment, and poor housing. To be involved with the DeSTRESS study was, as some would say, a no-brainer.
I am Chair of Pembroke Estate Management Board, essentially focussed on Pembroke Street in Devonport, a neighbourhood which, according to the IMD 2015, is one of the most deprived areas in the city. Please note, I use the word deprived because it seems customary to do so. In my opinion Devonport may be less fortunate than other areas and have more challenges, but it certainly isn’t deprived – particularly in terms of community spirit and pride.
Thirty years ago the Pembroke Street neighbourhood was an undesirable place to live – poor, inadequate housing stock and increasing unemployment. Boy racers used the roads as speed circuits and general anti-social behaviour sometimes turned into acts of arson. People still had to live with the pressures on their lives – the stresses and concerns of living in a no-go area, where it was said that even police chose not to attend. Feeling unsafe and desperate for a decent standard of living for life itself. Residents of the estate got together and, with key strategic partners, successfully transformed the area into one of the desired areas to live in.
The new builds over the years have positively enhanced the environment of Devonport. However, societal pressures have not diminished but increased. For example, for the majority of the community living on low-incomes, either with the insecurity of constant part-time contracts or zero hour contracts, finances are pretty tight. Locally, there are very few shops offering a wide range of products but people find themselves paying higher prices. Such monetary pressures have a great impact on how people can live their lives, which equally causes great anxiety.
We, the Pembroke Estate Management Board, recognise the worries and issues that residents have to face. Alongside our core housing management responsibilities we provide a listening ear, a helping hand, and hopefully a breath of fresh air to those who may be experiencing short or long term problems.
We also provide opportunities for residents to be involved with our community development activities; host awareness days and fun days; work in partnership with other organisations to provide activities supporting good mental health and wellbeing. All in all, we work towards collective togetherness and wellness.
I am aware that Pembroke Street has residents living with anti-depressants by their bedside. As it seems national strategies do not effectively consider approaches to poor mental health and wellbeing, I hope that through Pembroke Estate Management Board’s desire to place mental wellbeing as a core thread through everything we do, anti-depressants on the estate will become fewer and fewer as resilience to the pressures, old and new, increases.