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Mental health and community

What causes mental distress and what can be done about it? How is health and social care support, which is increasingly delivered at local level, affected by lay and professional perceptions of mental health and illness? This module examines how aspects of the external environment – in particular social, environmental, economic and political factors – shape and constrain our understandings and experiences of mental health and distress. It explores the theories and concepts that underpin and challenge mental health practice and service provision and looks at the impact of the frequently competing perspectives that characterise the world of mental health.

What you will study

This module comprises four study blocks:

Block 1 introduces the notion that there are very different views about what constitutes mental health distress and considers the role of the external environment – in particular social, environmental, economic and political factors – in shaping these views. It examines different ways of understanding mental distress, stressing the point that in order to understand current policies and practice it is necessary to look back at the social and historical context that informed them. You will also explore the similarities and differences between physical and learning disability and mental health, and the relationship between the mind, the body and the brain.

Block 2 looks at the way in which families, in their many forms, may experience and/or contribute to mental health and distress. The impact of ‘place’ and community, including social networks, on mental wellbeing, and the different types of ‘everyday’ support (for example that provided by friends, relatives and neighbours), are explored. This block concludes by evaluating our understandings of mental health in relation to the needs of children and young people.

Block 3 considers the influence of a range of societal factors that impact on mental health and distress. The impact of labelling and stigma on those who have been diagnosed as mentally ill, the role of advocacy in the context of mental health, the ways in which cultural factors interact with mental health and distress, and different ways of thinking about gender and sexuality are discussed. This block ends by looking at the complex relationship between mental distress, criminal behaviour and imprisonment.

Block 4 explores a range of economic and political factors that affect mental wellbeing. It raises challenging questions about the relationship between work and mental health, the role of mental health legislation, and the different approaches to mental health promotion. The evidence for and against the use of drugs to treat mental distress is explored, alongside the controversial role of the pharmaceutical industry. This block concludes with an opportunity to consolidate and revise what you’ve learnt throughout the module.

You will learn

This module provides you with insight into the contemporary context in which mental health care takes place and will help you to understand the issues faced by service users and service providers within this context. Specifically, the module encourages you to:
  • develop knowledge and understanding of how the experience of mental health problems affects and is affected by living within a community
  • recognise the value and limitations of accounts of personal experience of mental distress and of different responses to it
  • explore the impact of service users’ experiences on mental health policy and practice.

Entry requirements

This is an OU level 2 module and you need to have the study skills required for both higher education and distance learning, obtained either through OU level 1 study or from equivalent study elsewhere. Our OU level 1 modules Introducing health and social care (K102) and/or Perspectives in health and social care (K118) would be ideal preparation. However, you don’t need any prior knowledge as the study material for this module is designed to be accessible if you are new to this subject.

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please speak to an adviser.

Preparatory work

You will receive guidance on how to get started online in your first mailing. This will include information on using your computer for OU study and working with the Computing Guide. For example, the guidance explains how to access and use your module website and online discussion forums. If you have time before the start of the module you can work through this and explore all the online services available to you.

What's included

You’ll have access to a module website, which includes:

  • a week-by-week study planner
  • course-specific module materials
  • audio and video content
  • assignment details and submission section
  • online tutorial access.

You’ll also be provided with four printed study books, a reader Mental Health Still Matters, and other printed materials.

Computing requirements

You’ll need broadband internet access and a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of Windows (10 or 11), or macOS (11 'Big Sur' or higher).

Any additional software will be provided or is generally freely available.

To join in spoken conversations in tutorials, we recommend a wired headset (headphones/earphones with a built-in microphone).

Our module websites comply with web standards, and any modern browser is suitable for most activities.

Our OU Study mobile app will operate on all current, supported versions of Android and iOS. It’s not available on Kindle.

It’s also possible to access some module materials on a mobile phone, tablet device or Chromebook. However, as you may be asked to install additional software or use certain applications, you’ll also require a desktop or laptop as described above.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

Throughout your module studies, you'll get help and support from your assigned module tutor. They'll help you by:

  • Marking your assignments (TMAs) and providing detailed feedback for you to improve.
  • Guiding you to additional learning resources.
  • Providing individual guidance, whether that's for general study skills or specific module content.
  • Facilitating online discussions between your fellow students, in the dedicated module and tutor group forums.

Module tutors also run online tutorials throughout the module. Where possible, recordings of online tutorials will be made available to students. While these tutorials won’t be compulsory for you to complete the module, you’re strongly encouraged to take part.

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please speak to an adviser.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box above.

You will be expected to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs) and your End-of-Module Assessment (EMA) online through the eTMA system unless there are some difficulties which prevent you from doing so. In these circumstances, you must negotiate with your tutor to get their agreement to submit your assignment on paper.

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying K240 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

Future availability

Mental health and community starts once a year – in October.

This page describes the module that starts in October 2022, the last time we expect it to start.

Course work includes:

4 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
End-of-module assessment
No residential school