Finnish approaches to wellbeing mental health

Nimble Finland: slot machine fund supports mental health

At the beginning of 2017, the Finnish gambling system was reformed and merged into a single gaming company owned by the Finnish State.

Veikkaus is an innovative and unique system in which gambling monies are spent on public services, for the benefit of Finnish society in its entirety.

While this might be a sensitive subject, the system exists to operate games responsibly and minimise harm, and may be viewed as a pragmatic and realistic approach to gambling – which is going to happen anyway . Indeed, many of my colleagues in Finland, for example Taike, take their salaries from this fund.

Founded in 1897, Mieli, or Finnish Association for Mental Health (FAMH) is among the oldest mental health associations in the world, and receives funds from the Slot Machine Association. The multidisciplinary organisation of around 100 employees and volunteers promotes mental health in Finland’s popultion of 5.5 million people.

Johannes Parkkonen, Project Coordinator of the Finnish Association of Mental Health, provides a wish for my collection of Well Wishes for the arts and health field

Johannes Parkkonen, Project Coordinator, worked for 7 years at the See Me programme in Scotland, and has brought the concept of Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival (now in its 10th year) to Finland, where a Mental Health Week initiative is held every May.

Johannes kindly gave me a 90 minute interview and insight into the work of FAMH, during which the pragmatic and solution-focussed features of the systems and approaches in Finland became very apparent. Johannes suggested the word ‘nimble’ to describe his view of the Finnish approach.

This is not the only way FAMH works with Government.

Mental Health Can Be Strengthened

FAMH leads with a solution-focussed approach, promoting mental wellbeing and ensuring recovery is a goal. FAMH develops new initiatives and approaches that can become established practices within public services.

Prioritising Policies

Mental Health is a priority of the Finnish Government. In 2015 FAMH succeeded in bringing national mental health and wellbeing into the parliamentary election goals.

For example, The Finnish Ministry of Social Affairs and Health granted two-year funding (2017-18) for FAMH to vastly expand the coverage of Mental Health First Aid training in Finland. The Government now recognises that mental health can be targeted and strengthened, and that the foundations begin in the early years and throughout childhood. There is evidence that every Euro invested in mental health is returned many times over.

What Else Does FAMH Do?

Mental Health First Aid

Mental health first aid is one strand of activity: teaching healthy coping strategies and increasing resilience to avoid psychological difficulties. This strategy is also seen in THRIVE NYC programme to address mental health, which is a key reason I will travel to the US in November on Part 2 of the Fellowship.

Mental health literacy

Emotional literacy is taught in schools in Finland – and named as mental health education. For the first time, in 2016 concrete goals were set and evaluation is planned. They include the ability to manage daily routines, to identify one’s own strengths, and to listen to and understand emotions.

As a child psychologist, I can really appreciate the value of explicitly teaching our children to recognise, label and process their emotions – vital components towards good mental health and resilience. This seems like common sense and I see no good reasons for the lack of emotional education in the UK curriculum. Locating Child and Adolescent Mental Services outside the remit of ‘normal’ lessons increases stigma surrounding mental health difficulties. Talking to my colleagues in Children’s Psychology Services this week, my senior colleagues reminded me that we have been having this conversation for decades. I know change takes time… but several of the people working in Government in Finland told me that there is a willingness to take risks when something looks promising – the nimbleness Johannes referred to. Action is needed where Goverment policy reflects the advice of those working in the field.

The Elevator of Emotions

FAMH have developed a functional and interactive game for learning emotional and social skills. You can download the game and rules in PDF here.


FAMH run a help line that may be accessed almost 24/7.

Hope From Literature

Johannes described a project in which well-known people host an evening in a local
library and tell their audience about how a book offered them hope.

Family or Systemic Approaches

Research shows that the emotional atmosphere of a family has a huge influence on the outcome following an episode of, for example, psychosis. Family support can be crucial to securing a good outcome.

The Spectrum Centre for Mental Health Research, Lancaster University, currently have a large study REACT (Relatives Education and Coping Toolkit) underway, exploring the effectiveness of family interventions. You can register to participate here.

Education and awareness implemented in all sectors not just healthcare

FAMH have successfully lobbied across all sectors and their work has secured Government support for the strengthening of mental health care skills among the population. The role of the arts in fostering mental health, community and meaningful activity is increasingly being recognised throughout Europe. The brand new NEFELE initiative has as a top priority the organisation of a European Festival of Art for Mental Health.

My next post will report from this week’s Culture, Health and Wellbeing International Conference in Bristol, where Duncan Selbie, Chief Executive of Public Health England, called for the use of the arts for the purpose of improving national wellbeing.

On July 19th 2017, the UK All Party Parliamentary Group for Arts, Health and Wellbeing will launch a report covering the considerable evidence that engaging in the arts improves wellbeing and health outcomes.
Could this be the step we need towards Government-level support for the arts and culture in healthcare? There’ll be a launch event in Manchester on Friday 21st July. 

Throughout the summer I’ll be continuing to write about some of the amazing examples from Finland and consider the differences and similarities between Finland’s policies and those of the UK with regard to approaches to the arts, health and wellbeing.



I'm a British clinical psychologist with a research background. I manage the Greater Manchester i-THRIVE Arts, Culture and Mental Health Programme, part of the national transformation of children's services. I also have an NHS clinical role in Lancaster and Morecambe working with children, young people and families (CAMHS). I began this blog in 2017 to record a WCMT Travelling Fellowship, from a research role at Arts for Health, Manchester Metropolitan University. I began clinical psychology training (DCLinPsy, Lancaster) in 2010, and studied the role of creativity in bipolar disorder, because of the known links, and partly due to my own experiences of creatively managing extremes of mood in adolescence and throughout my 20s. I have worked in several university psychology research departments including Manchester University in suicide prevention, the Spectrum Centre for Mental Health Research at Lancaster University (notable for service user expertise), and on the Dementia & Imagination research programme.

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