Mental health in an unequal world

A transgender woman in a hospital gown having a conversation with a doctor, a transgender man.

For many of us the last 18 months has caused us to think more about our health and wellbeing, and put it higher up on our agenda now. We benefit from excellent public services in the UK, like the NHS, but not all of us have the same experience of accessing health services and this impacts on our long-term health. As a health and care commissioner in Sussex I get to see a lot of data and information about our population health and I also get to hear a wide range of feedback and experience from people accessing healthcare. What sticks out the most is the difference in health outcomes for different people, sometimes due to just being who they are. This is called health inequality and is the greatest challenge of our time.

When testing the effectiveness of our health service, I don’t just look at overall life-expectancy of our residents, but I look at something called healthy life expectancy – that is the proportion of your life that you live in good health. In Sussex, there is a seven-year difference in healthy life expectancy between the most affluent and the poorest people in our communities. And wealth of course isn’t just the only factor affecting our long-term health. Living with long-term mental illness features in the top five reasons for poor physical health outcomes. Throw in living with a protected characteristic, such as ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity, and the affect is amplified further. This doesn’t bode well for those of us in the LGBTQ community living with mental health challenges.

Well, the NHS is waking up to this realisation, and for the foreseeable future is now making tackling health inequality its top priority. In Sussex our local health services are increasingly working in a more joined up way with local communities, including with the charitable sector, to tackle the causes of health inequality. This is an opportunity for those of us in the LGBTQ community to share our experiences and participate in designing future health services to respond to our needs more effectively and have a better understanding of LGBTQ physical and mental health.

MindOut is well placed with its expertise and community connections to represent our voice and advocate for our needs. By sharing our experiences and participating in designing our future services we can improve awareness and build back a better, fairer health service. This is already having a local impact, where Sussex is putting forward plans to be the first place in the country to provide local gender identity services in the community.

By Chris Clark, Trustee