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Priority 2: Promoting mental health and social well-being


Mental and social well-being are the foundations of lifelong health and well-being. If the wider determinants provide the conditions for good health, then social and mental well-being can be seen as the foundations for healthy people and communities.

Mental well-being covers how we think, how we understand our emotions and those of others, how we form healthy relationships, how resilient we are, and how we make sense of our experiences. Our mental well-being is strongly influenced by the environment in which we live, work, play and learn. The early years are central to developing the foundations for mental well-being and are influenced by interaction between an infant and their parents or carers and by the relationship between parents in the home. If these conditions in childhood are not safe and nurturing, people may experience long-term effects as a result of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs).

Critically, wider social networks within families and communities contribute to the social well-being of individuals and communities – the sense of belonging and being connected to a community and creating networks which aim to involve everyone is important. Communities like these are less likely to experience loneliness and isolation and are more resilient when faced with adversity and trauma.

Overview - Why  this is a priority

There is growing evidence that mental well-being is essential to our ability to respond to the challenges of day-to-day life and how we look after ourselves. A high level of mental well-being can reduce the effect of the wider determinants, but low mental well-being can worsen their effect. People who enjoy a high level of mental well-being will be better able to take steps to improve their own health and well-being and that of their family and wider community. They are more likely to take better care of themselves and get greater benefit from healthcare. When mental well-being is low, people sometimes use alcohol, drugs or food as a coping mechanism. This in turn increases the risk of health problems, and the person is less likely to ask for help or access care at an early stage.

The School Health Research Network gathers information on the health and well-being of secondary school children in Wales. It has found a decline in children’s mental well-being compared with before the Covid-19 pandemic. For many people, the pandemic highlighted the importance of their relationships with others – loss of contact with friends and family had a negative effect on their mental well-being. Many people did things to help their mental well-being, such as going for walks, spending time with family, gardening, cooking, crafts and outdoor exercise. We have the potential to increase people’s awareness and understanding of the relatively simple steps they can take to both protect and promote their mental well-being, particularly during times of stress.

We will all experience low levels of mental well-being at different times of our lives – when we lose someone we love, experience the breakdown of a relationship or lose a job, or during periods of ill health. However, for some people and groups, low mental well-being can be long term which, along with chronic stress, can have a significant effect on their health. Trauma and adverse childhood experiences, without positive protection and support, can affect people’s mental well-being throughout their lives.

We are social animals, and human interaction is essential for good mental well-being. The growing focus on loneliness and isolation in policies recognises the importance of this. However, unhealthy relationships can be the basis of abuse, violence or exploitation. The National Survey for Wales 2021/2022 showed that, on average, 13% of people in Wales felt lonely and 58% felt lonely sometimes. The figures were slightly higher among young people aged 16 to 24 and the lowest among older people.

What this priority covers

This priority is about laying the foundations of good health and well-being throughout our lives.  While our work under this priority will contribute to preventing mental ill health, this priority is not only about mental health or illness. In simple terms, mental well-being can be defined as ‘feeling good and functioning well’. We will focus on the different foundations of mental and social well-being for individuals and within communities. This will include:

  • psychological factors – such as self-esteem, self-confidence, self-determination, and self-acceptance
  • emotional literacy – the ability to recognise and respond appropriately to our emotions
  • healthy relationships – developing the skills to form and maintain good-quality healthy relationships with others
  • resilience – our ability to respond to the day-to-day challenges of life in a way that does not harm our health
  • reducing stigma and discrimination and
  • a ‘whole of society’ approach, in which individuals, organisations, communities, systems and the society in which people live are aware of the effect of trauma and are able to respond

As the foundations of these skills are often laid in early childhood, we will build on the work of our First 1000 Days programme to strengthen infants’ mental well-being. We will support parents and carers to create the best conditions for their child’s social and emotional development.  This will include continuing to highlight the wider social, economic and environmental conditions that give children the best start in life and supporting policymakers to assess how their policies affect families.

We will also continue to help develop and put in place a ‘whole school’ approach to mental and emotional well-being.  We will support how school curriculums are put in place, so that our schools can create opportunities and lead by example to build self-esteem and self-confidence, develop emotional literacy, create a sense of belonging and being connected, and strengthen healthy relationships. We will continue to focus on preventing violence among children and young people. This will contribute to preventing all forms of violence in Wales, achieving what we currently can only imagine – a Wales without violence. We will develop programmes that produce and share evidence for effective action to promote mental well-being and the conditions in communities that support social well-being.

We will support employers to promote good mental well-being and encourage a sense of belonging and inclusive social networks. We will continue our work with Health Education and Improvement Wales to add to the knowledge and skills that help promote mental well-being as a basic part of all healthcare interactions. We will continue our work to keep to a minimum the long-term harm that results from adversity and trauma at any point in our lives. We are committed to helping deliver this programme of work, which will help Wales to become a nation that encourages everyone to be non-judgemental, kind and compassionate.

The pace of change of technology has been rapid over recent years and has transformed how we communicate and interact with each other. Our work will also recognise the need to be mentally resilient online. We will incorporate this approach across our work plans.

Finally, we will continue our work using mental well-being impact assessments to help create the best conditions for good mental health. Working with others, we will also aim to add to the evidence for effective action and make sure that we can monitor change and evaluate action.


By 2035, we will have:

  • worked with others to reduce inequalities in mental and social well-being
  • collected, interpreted and shared evidence for effective action to support policy development, legislation and action to promote mental and social well-being and reduce inequalities
  • helped to reduce the effect of adverse childhood experiences and other forms of trauma
  • supported action based on evidence to promote and protect mental well-being, including in education, at work and in communities
  • supported the wider system to review or evaluate policy or programmes for their effect on mental and social well-being and inequalities throughout people’s lives
  • developed strong and purposeful partnerships that will give people more opportunities to improve their mental well-being by getting involved with the things that keep them mentally well and
  • worked with partners and parents to help children achieve the best social and emotional development