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Since 2001 the UK’s Mental Health Foundation has hosted Mental Health Awareness Week to raise awareness about mental health, to open up discussions and aid prevention of mental health problems.

The week takes place during May in the UK every year. This year’s theme is on body image, and previous themes have been on stress, relationships and loneliness. This mental health week is further compounded by the World Health Organisation’s World Mental Health Day, which will take place this year on 10 October.

Mental Health Foundation body image logo for this year's mental health week

The focus on mental health and wellbeing has risen over the past few years as statistics from the NHS have highlighted that 1 in 4 adults experiences at least one diagnosable mental health problem in any given year. Mental health is affecting the working population, with 5 million people being signed off work every year due to mental health problems and a 14% rise in GP sick notes relating to anxiety and stress.

In 2017, findings of a Mental Health Foundation commissioned survey were published in the report ‘Surviving or Thriving. The state of the UK’s mental Health’. The report interviewed over 2000 people across England, Wales and Scotland and concluded that the state of mental health across the population is deteriorating. That being said, reports on the state of mental health have also acknowledged a growing awareness and a reduced amount of stigma attached to mental health issues will have impacted on increased numbers reporting a problem. Nevertheless, research sources in the sector agree that it is a growing issue that needs to be addressed, especially amongst the young and in deprived communities.

Focus on learning to maintain health and wellbeing

A substantial number of studies have recognised the significant positive impacts that learning can have on health and wellbeing, such as reports from the Learning and Work Institute. Initiatives have been established over recent years to improve the nation’s wellbeing and to advocate learning as a way to improve health and wellbeing.

The NHS advises that lifelong learning in any shape or form can improve mental health, wellbeing and increase self-esteem.

In 2017 the Government commissioned a study to assess how adult learning can help people manage and recover from mild to moderate mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression. The Department for Education released the latest findings of the ‘Community learning mental health project’ study in October 2018, which shows positive results.

The NHS have five steps to wellbeing. As part of this the NHS advises that lifelong learning in any shape or form can improve mental health, wellbeing and increase self-esteem. They also advocate connecting with others, whether that be family, friends or people within your community to give a sense of purpose, provide support and to have someone to share emotions and experiences.

EPALE UK Star Support blog competition logo

EPALE UK Competition about adult learning, health and wellbeing

EPALE’s community of adult learning practitioners have long-advocated the benefits of adult learning on overall health and wellbeing, ranging from community activities to gaining further qualifications and upskilling for better employment prospects. Non-formal, informal and formal learning all play a part; for example, learning can come from activities such as , arts and crafts, language learning,, joining local sports teams, and more!

Given the importance of the topic, EPALE UK have launched a competition for blog entries to be submitted until 20 May 2019, so that people in the adult education sector can share their stories and raise awareness of how learning can help and maintain the health and wellbeing of adults. Blogs can be ‘liked’ and comments added on EPALE from 22 May - 6 June. The winner, who will win a £100 voucher, will be announced the week commencing 10 June 2019.

What's your opinion on the connection between adult learning, health and wellbeing? Do you have a story or a project that aims to use learning to improve the health and wellbeing of adults in your community?

Submit a blog to the Star Supporter Competition or tweet EPALE UK and let them know!