Our coronavirus response
At the Mental Health Foundation, we know that meeting our strategy is critical. Our mission is to address the unacceptably high level of mental ill-health. We believe this is the public health challenge of our time.
And this mission is now 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 promised that we would focus on Impact, Influence and Integrity, and explained we would:
- Innovate in community programmes
- Do research
- Engage and inform the public
- Influence and campaign for change 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 one of the first to clearly suggest that the pandemic will not affect everyone equally, and the mental health impact will last longer and potentially be more significant than the 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 on 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 by using digital and other methods.
For example, in our work in schools, we have adapted our mental health literacy content for schools to run as a virtual programme, and we’ve swapped our live training sessions for webinars.
We’ve adapted exercises from our existing “Stress Less” programme and sent a pack to schools for parents to use with their children at home, to get them talking about their needs, strengths and challenges around their mental health at the moment.
We have also been producing guidance for schools on supporting students to return to school after coronavirus, also thinking about supporting young people who have experienced bereavements or domestic violence during lockdown.
In our work in older people’s supported accommodation, 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.
"We miss the project we had, but we have had to find a new normal. We developed a telephone service, crucially putting social interaction between people at its heart."
Josh, group facilitator
As part of our regular work we publish reports on what protects 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 alongside 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) who are contributing personal insights, and comments on the data generated by the study.
We are also sharing our most important findings with colleagues and politicians in all of the four UK governments. These have been 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 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 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 on the coronavirus outbreak.
We have been the home of Mental Health Awareness Week since 2001 and take this responsibility seriously as this 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, we are focusing on kindness in a way that chimes with the national mood and also starts a national conversation about a fresh approach towards a mentally healthier society.
Lastly, in Scotland, we have 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 at this time of facing a health crisis.
We have, since the start, been part of the national mental health response during the coronavirus outbreak. Working in the background, we have been a consistent and strong voice for public mental health during this time, across the UK.
This has included playing a key role through our 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 international networks.
We have pushed our key recommendations to politicians and civil service officials. A key point is the need to publish a whole-government COVID-19 Mental Health Response and Recovery Plan to ensure a cross-governmental approach to mental health and reducing health inequalities, and help prevent an increase in mental health problems in the population 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.
Now, perhaps more than ever, it is clear that our strategy in taking a public mental health approach (for individuals, those at risk and for society) in order to improve everyone’s mental wellbeing is critical.