Viewpoint: Mind the gap - better approaches to wellbeing

Taking steps to promote wellbeing makes economic sense, argues Christine Berry.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Wellbeing Economics’ first report calls on all political parties to set out their approach to wellbeing in their manifestos.

The group argues that we need to deal with the underlying causes of low wellbeing, not just the symptoms. And this preventive approach isn’t just about reducing smoking or improving diets – it’s about tackling job insecurity and excessive working hours too. It’s about designing good places to live, with opportunities for physical activity and social interaction, and access to green space. Wellbeing is not just the responsibility of the health and social care systems. It’s the ultimate goal of almost all government policy, including economic policy.

When it comes to tackling symptoms, the group heard that we need much better integration of mental and physical healthcare. The burgeoning popularity of mindfulness meditation – which cultivates ‘non-judgemental awareness’ of the present moment – is not just a fad. It is built on a solid evidence base and a growing understanding of the links between mind and body. Studies have shown mindfulness-based stress reduction helps people to manage long-term conditions such as chronic pain and diabetes.

This could transform the way we approach such conditions – but it requires a fundamental change of culture. The group’s inquiry heard from a physiotherapist who was interested in integrating mindfulness into his practice, and about the lack of training and support for thinking across boundaries in this way. We also heard from GP and clinical commissioning group member Jonty Heaversedge, who tried to redesign pain pathways to include physiotherapists and psychologists, rather than simply referring people to pain clinics for medication.

Access to training is vital, but we also need to change the incentives in the system so that it makes sense to invest in prevention. 

Christine Berry is a researcher at the New Economics Foundation (nef)

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