Our coronavirus response
At the Mental Health Foundation, we know that delivering our strategy is critical. But we also know that none of our work would be possible without the generosity of thousands of supporters such as you, who give their time and money to support our work.
This is how your support has helped us in our mission is to address the unacceptably high level of mental ill-health which is even more urgent as the country, and the world, is facing a universal health challenge – coronavirus.
When we published our new 5-year Strategy in November 2019, the pandemic had not yet started. We made a pledge back then to our supporters that we would focus on Impact, Influence and Integrity, and explained that we would:
- Innovate in community programmes
- Be led by research and evidence
- Engage and inform the public
- Influence and campaign for changes in policy
Whilst the coronavirus pandemic has impacted all aspects of our work, including transitioning into being an entirely remote-working and digital organisation, it hasn’t stopped us from delivering our critical mission.
In fact, we have rapidly adapted and started new work so that we are able to play a positive role in addressing the mental health impacts of the pandemic and the lockdown measures.
We were one of the first organisations in the world to talk about the mental health impact of the pandemic back in February and, together with others, we saw quickly that the pandemic will not affect everyone equally, and that its mental health impact could last longer and be more significant than its physical health impact.
We realised that we have an ethical responsibility, as a public health organisation, and a duty of public service, as a charity, to help by applying our public mental health lens to responding to coronavirus.
As part of our mission, we test and evaluate the best approaches to improving mental health in communities and then roll them out as widely as possible.
To ensure that we continue to reach the vulnerable population groups we are working with, we have adapted many of our programmes using digital and other methods.
For example, for our work in schools, we have adapted our mental health literacy content for schools to run this as a virtual programme, and we’ve swapped our live training sessions for webinars.
We have adapted activities from our existing StressLESS Facilitator Pack for adults to use with children and young people during this time. The activity pack, called Time For Us (.pdf), is designed to get adults and children talking about how they feel and working together to create strategies for coping.
We have also been producing guidance for schools on supporting students and staff with the transition back to school after coronavirus, including highlighting the need to support those who have experienced particular challenges such as family bereavements or domestic violence during lockdown. These resources include practical activities and resources and have been produced in consultation with schools.
In our work with the later life housing sector in Wales, we’ve swapped our peer group sessions for regular telephone contact discussing how the older people we are working with are looking after their mental health whilst in isolation. The project is also connecting small groups of residents together using conference calling, establishing valuable social support networks between isolated individuals. In London, we have carried on our Creating Communities Project with monthly creative packs for people who had been taking part in peer groups.
In our workplace programmes, our subsidiary, Mental Health at Work, has adapted content to enable continued workshop delivery through a modular, virtual programme, reflecting both the changed nature of working, and the impact of coronavirus on workplace mental health during this period. Smaller group sizes and shorter sessions have enabled retention of the customised facilitated approach and this has been supported through a programme of webinars with a broader reach, delivered both directly by the team and in collaboration with the Institute of Leadership and Management. We are continuing to evolve our content to reflect the emerging issues in workplaces including isolation, anxiety and grief. This activity has ensured that we continue to affect working lives positively, to change attitudes and behaviours around mental health.
In our work with refugees we have been working hard to engage our volunteers and the wider community. This includes moving our community conversations approach online. We also worked hard during May with one of our refugee groups, exploring kindness, which was the theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week. This involved participants writing letters to each other and highlighted the importance of families during this time and also the need to be kind to yourself.
As part of our regular work we publish reports on what protects our mental health, the causes of poor mental health and how to tackle them.
This is no different in the context of the coronavirus pandemic. We have worked rapidly to launch a longitudinal study of how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting the mental health of people across the UK.
We were able to start collecting data before the lockdown was implemented, as well as set up a strong UK-wide partnership with the University of Cambridge, Swansea University, the University of Strathclyde and Queen’s University Belfast.
We are taking a public mental health approach and are also working with a diverse Citizens’ Jury, who represent a broad range of human experience within the UK, including that of living with mental health problems. They are contributing personal insights, and comments on the data generated by the study.
We are also sharing our most important findings with colleagues and with government officials and politicians in all four UK governments. These are being used by government representatives to prioritise action, inform policy, and influence recovery plans.
Separately, we also teamed up with LinkedIn to review the impact of working at home on people’s mental health.
Our public engagement
We believe that giving people clear, evidence-based and engaging information on looking after their mental health is a key part of our prevention mission.
We have curated one of the UK's leading coronavirus mental health advice sites for information on mental health during the pandemic. Millions have engaged with our content through our website or social media. Our pages cover a range of issues including domestic abuse, young people, debt, parenting, bereavement and loss and working from home.
We remain committed to bringing readers reliable and relevant information. All of our pages are written and regularly reviewed by our mental health experts, in line with official advice and guidance on the coronavirus outbreak.
We have been the home of Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW) since 2001 and take this responsibility seriously, as MHAW is one of the biggest campaigns of its kind in the world. In April we made the difficult decision to change the theme for this year. Instead of sleep and mental health, we focused on kindness in a way that chimed with the national mood and also started a national conversation about a fresh approach towards creating a mentally healthier society.
In Scotland, we adapted the programme of our Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival to be delivered entirely online throughout Mental Health Awareness Week.
Our policy work
One of the key things we do to deliver our mission is to propose solutions and campaign for change to address the underlying causes of poor mental health. Advocacy and influencing policy change is critical when facing a public health crisis.
We have, since the start, been working with many other charities on the national mental health response during the coronavirus outbreak. Working in the background, we have been a consistent voice for public mental health during this time, across the UK.
This has included playing our role through membership of groups within the Departments of Health and Public Health agencies of the four nations. We have also been consulting with and influencing contacts, networks and groups within the NHS, local initiatives, national campaigns like Every Mind Matters and providing oversight and support for the COVID-19 Mental Health Response Fund. During Mental Health Awareness Week we published a briefing on kindness and mental health, drawing on thinking about how we can create a kinder society, the values that inform public policy-making, and how to apply a kindness test to policy development and impact.
We have shared our key recommendations with politicians and government officials, and have worked with others in the sector to influence government thinking. Our main call is for governments to publish a whole-government COVID-19 Mental Health Response and Recovery Plans, to ensure a cross-governmental approach to mental health and reducing health inequalities, and help to prevent an increase in population mental health problems as a result of the pandemic and its extensive social and economic consequences.
It seems that the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted most aspects of our daily lives and usual routines.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the value of our mission at the Foundation to help people understand, protect and sustain their mental health, and our work to reduce the risks to this.
Now, perhaps more than ever, it is clear that our strategy in taking a public mental health approach is critical - for individuals, for those at risk and for society - so that we can improve everyone’s mental wellbeing.