Raising Awareness Around Mental Health in the UK

James da Costa is a London-based +SocialGood Connector and social entrepreneur. During the pandemic, he’s been raising awareness about mental health issues in the UK. Learn more about his creative work in our SDGs on the Ground series.

Photo by Ümit Bulut on Unsplash

Tell us about your current work driving momentum on the SDGs in your community. From an SDG perspective, what are the most immediate needs specific to your community?

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, mental health cases and challenges have increased exponentially in the UK.

I learned about this directly through my work as the digital track lead of the Youth G7, and in my SDG community outreach work in Manchester with the Global Shapers Community. One survey of 2,000 young people, for example, showed that 56% of the UK’s youth ranked mental health as their top health priority (ahead of COVID-19). Through my work at Youth G7, I’ve been helping advocate for the importance of mental health as a key issue for the G7 to focus on. In fact, our group’s advocacy and policy recommendations around mental health have placed the issue on the G7’s official communiqué.

Do you feel that your community/ region/ nation is invested in the SDGs, and do you believe they are making progress?

I do feel that the UK overall is invested in the SDGs and is making progress, as highlighted in the 2019 UK voluntary national SDG review.The UK’s strength in health, education, and workplace legislation are prime examples for other countries to follow. The UK can be a good model for how governments can lead the way for SDG change. For example, in the UK’s efforts to build back better post-COVID-19, we’ve seen both governments and businesses championing inclusive, sustainable recovery.

A key priority for the country this year is SDG 13 (climate action) and the environment, which will be highlighted this November at COP26 in Glasgow. It is essential that governments mobilize resources at COP26 and focus on building back better in a more environmentally friendly way after COVID-19. They should not simply prioritize economic growth at the expense of the environment.

Are there any specific sectors within your community that are making greater progress on the SDGs (e.g. Civil society, private sector, local municipalities, academic institutions, etc)? Any surprising examples?

A number of cities across the UK are leading the way by adopting the SDGs as a core framework for city development and tackling inequality over the next decade. In particular, Bristol has created a “One City” plan, mapping all strategic projects to the SDGs.

However, more cities need to follow the lead of Bristol, and the UK must do more to adopt the SDGs and increase awareness among everyday citizens. While there is strong buy-in in the UK to the principles that the SDGs represent and increasingly large uptake in government, cities, and business, there is much more that could be done for civil society to learn about the SDGs. More work should be done by businesses and governments to integrate the SDGs into everyday life for reporting and target setting, as well as consolidated media efforts.

What SDG solutions have you seen in your community that could be scaled up either regionally, nationally or globally?

One of the projects I have been working on over the last year to support mental health and loneliness is called “Happy Benches.” Loneliness and social isolation can have an impact on memory, as well as mental and physical health. 45% of adults in England report that they feel occasionally, sometimes, or often lonely . “Happy Benches” encourages people to sit down, chat, and make an effort to connect with strangers. Each bench has a sign indicating that anyone sitting on it doesn’t mind a stranger approaching them to say hi. This project not only supports SDG 3 (Good Health and Wellbeing), but also helps strengthen wider community collaboration, which is essential to engaging more people with the SDGs.

I believe the principle of bringing people back together for connection and collaboration could and should be scaled up nationally in other forms.