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Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL)

September 2021 – This working paper summarises insights from pioneering interventions that promote community mental health.

Download the working paper.


Delivery of the UN Sustainable Development Goals will require the promotion of wellbeing for all. The pandemic has profoundly affected communities, revealing inequalities often missed by conventional GDP measures. Community wellbeing provides a powerful alternative lens to understand and seek to promote more resilient and inclusive societies. This working paper, commissioned by the Johnson & Johnson Foundation, explores the current literature and pioneering practices that promote community health as a further mechanism for delivering improved health outcomes, with a particular focus on community mental health across Western Europe.

The report identifies three types of community mental health interventions at a project level:

  • Community empowerment and capacity-building;
  • Social support and integration;
  • Community-based treatment and care.

The report then summarises ‘principles for quality growth’ for the further growth and development of community mental health as a delivery mechanism, and for community health more broadly, based on the insights from pioneering practitioners. These are summarised using the multi-level perspective:

  • At the niche (project level) level – services targeted to where the need is; service user empowerment and involvement; structured engagement with local partners; strong programme to health system linkages; well-paid, trained community health workers/project staff; robust, consistent tracking of outcomes and impact; and knowledge networks and exchange
  • At the regime (health systems) level – health system recognition and buy-in for community (mental) health; a clear business case backed up by robust impact data; long-term, flexible funding and support for programmes and projects; and sufficient financial and professional capacity across the broader system
  • At the landscape (wider systems) level – a favourable or improving socio-economic context; policy recognition of and responses to the causes of individual and collective trauma; societal acceptance of mental health as an issue; and a favourable, joined-up policy environment.

The report then summarises the systemic constraints that were identified by pioneering practitioners and the literature: lack of appropriate funding and commitment; lack of understanding and recognition; unfavourable socio-economic and policy context. Finally, investment opportunities are proposed for institutions seeking to promote community health.

Citing this report

Kellard, B, and Lee, S. (2021). Community Health Enquiry. Cambridge, UK: University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership.

Working papers are circulated for discussion purposes only. Their contents should be considered preliminary and are not to be quoted without the authors' permission. All views expressed are those of the author.

Published September 2021

Authors and Acknowledgments

With thanks to Marion Birnstill, Johnson & Johnson Foundation and Caroline Lee, Senior Research Associate, CISL, for their insights and contributions throughout the project.

We are grateful to all the experts and pioneering practitioners who were consulted as part of this research. A list is provided in the annex.


Copyright © 2021 University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL). Some rights reserved.


The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not represent an official position of CISL or The University of Cambridge.