Mental health services for marginalised women
By Geraldine Esdaille,
We all wish to live a life in good health, free from illness and suffering. As a nurse and a yoga teacher, this has been made abundantly clear to me over the years whether working in a prison in Glasgow, or in a clinic in Bhopal, India.
"Recent figures suggest that inequalities in life expectancy between people living in the most and least deprived areas of Scotland is widening. There is a 24 year gap in healthy life expectancy between the wealthiest and the poorest people in Scotland (Health Foundation 2023)."
In his 2014 Ted Talk Sir Harry Burns, the ex chief medical officer for Scotland, lays out a fascinating exploration of the concept of salutogenesis - a focus on wellness and wellbeing as a marker of good health rather than the absence of disease. Yet, almost a decade later, the average life expectancy in Scotland is the lowest in Western Europe (Health Foundation 2023).
Recent figures suggest that inequalities in life expectancy between people living in the most and least deprived areas of the Scotland is widening. There is a 24 year gap in healthy life expectancy between the wealthiest and the poorest people in Scotland (Health Foundation 2023). These figures are impacted by myriad issues. Covid-19, drug related deaths and increasing poverty as a result of global economic challenge are undoubtedy contributing factors.
The solutions are aspirational, complex and require a multi-systems collaborative approach. There is no easy answer and work is required at both political and grassroots level to support people to be more well. Accessing spaces that truly promote health is key for people to be able to develop a sense of autonomy and empowerment around wellbeing.
In 2014, we established Edinburgh Community Yoga (ECY), a locally focussed social enterprise, with one mission in mind: ‘to reduce health inequality and empower people and communities by improving access to the therapeutic benefits of yoga by working across cultural, economic and health barriers that inhibit people from taking part’.
The journey of ECY has taken many twists and turns. We run chair based programmes on social prescription in areas of socioeconomic deprivation around the city, deliver trauma informed yoga programmes for women affected by trauma and recovering from addiction. We work in every corner of the city: in prisons, doctors surgeries, psychiatric facilities, schools, recovery hubs and community centres.
We understand that many people cannot access wellness activities as a result of poor mental and physical health issues, adverse childhood events leading to chronic stress and complex post traumatic stess disorder and issues around financial exclusion. Our evaluation highlights the importance of community, connection and positive relationships in boosting self-esteem and confidence.
A ECY participant said: “People might be excused for thinking ‘it’s just yoga’ but I know better! I genuinely think it’s the most important thing I’ve discovered in my recovery and the longer I do it the more pervasive the benefits seem to become.”
In 2019, I was awarded a Churchill Fellowship and spent three months in Vancouver, the USA and Kenya studying not for profit organisations who have pioneered work around trauma informed practice, scholarship, mentorship and yoga training, supporting marginalised groups to access yoga and to take the benefits back to their communities.
My leadership skills, belief in our mission and my commitment to the work we do were solidified on this journey, leading me to leave my role in medical education and focus on running ECY full time with our small team, Laura Wilson, founding director and Elle O’Donnnell our operations manager.
A global pandemic put a spanner in our works but in 2021, I was successful in obtaining funding via the Churchill Fellowship's Activate Fund to develop a six month programme of yoga based education for women affected by trauma in recovery from substance use – the Action Scholarship Programme (ASP). In this time period, I was also awarded a Queen’s Nurse title from the Queen’s Nursing Institute Scotland, a leadership programme and award that I never would have applied for had I not completed the Churchill Fellowship. This bridged a gap for me in my careers in nursing and yoga.
At ECY, we have completed our first six month pilot of the ASP with ten women and have just started our second cohort due to complete in March 2024. Building on the learning from cohort one, we are creating a connected community of women, some of whom have become peer volunteers on our outreach projects, others who we are supporting (both financially and practically) to explore the opportunity to become yoga teachers.
Healing takes time and the journey is not always smooth, but the practice of yoga is a practice of a lifetime and we hope women, whether they choose to become yoga teachers or not, develop skills and tools that can support them to experience more wellbeing and better health through the rest of their lives.
For more information visit Edinburgh Community Yoga.
The views and opinions expressed by any Fellow are those of the Fellow and not of the Churchill Fellowship or its partners, which have no responsibility or liability for any part of them.
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