People around the country have been coming together this week to show their support for Mental Health Awareness Week. The annual initiative, hosted by the Mental Health Foundation, runs from 18th-24th May, and the simple theme of this year's campaign is kindness.
Speaking about the campaign, Mental Health Foundation chief executive Mark Rowland told Phoenix: "Mental health problems can affect anyone, at any time. We believe that mental health is everyone’s business. So, for one week each May, we campaign around a specific theme for Mental Health Awareness Week. Since our first Mental Health Awareness Week in 2001, we’ve raised awareness of topics like body image, stress and relationships. The campaign reaches millions of people every year. This year, with your support, we want to reach more people than ever."
This year's campaign has been given an added impetus by the impact of the global Coronavirus pandemic which has seen stress levels and other mental health problems soar worldwide. Quite apart from anxiety over Covid-19 itself, there's also been increasing worry over the economic impact of the virus and the social isolation caused by lockdown, which has cut many vulnerable people off from their friends and support networks. That's why the Mental Health Foundation is taking this opportunity to urge people to be kind and to forge stronger community links to help each other through adversity. They're desperate to avoid a repeat of what happened in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, in which the poorest and most vulnerable members of society were the hardest hit.
Mark Rowland continued: "One thing that we have seen all over the world is that kindness is prevailing in uncertain times. We have learnt that amid the fear, there is also community, support and hope. The added benefit of helping others is that it is good for our own mental health and wellbeing. It can help reduce stress and improve your emotional wellbeing. Beyond ourselves, our report reveals how inequality is rising in our society and its harmful effects on our health. Life expectancy is falling for the poorest for the first time in 100 years. As child poverty rises, children and young people in the poorest parts of our country are two to three times more likely to experience poor mental health than those in the richest. After the 2008 credit crunch it was the most vulnerable in our communities who experienced the severest consequences of austerity, with devastating effects on their mental and physical health. This is not the hallmark of a kind society. We must not make the same mistakes after this pandemic. Kindness could transform our schools, places of work, communities and families. Let's shape a society that tips the balance in favour of good mental health, for all of us, but especially for those who are most vulnerable."
Kindness is defined by doing something towards yourself and others, motivated by a genuine desire to make a positive difference. The Mental Health Foundation's research shows that kindness and mental health are deeply connected. The research shows that kindness is an antidote to isolation and creates a sense of belonging. It helps reduce stress, brings a fresh perspective and deepens friendships. Kindness to ourselves can prevent shame from corroding our sense of identity and help boost our self-esteem. Kindness can even improve feelings of confidence and optimism.
During the week, people are being encouraged to carry out or reflect on an act of kindness. You can take a photo or video of your act and post it using the hashtags #KindnessMatters #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek
You can also share your ideas on how you think we could build a kinder society that would support our mental health, using the same hashtags above. The foundation has also created a #KindnessMatters GiF which can be attached to your stories or newsfeed. You can show your support for the campaign by downloading graphics for Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and sharing them with your friends and family.
The Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival has been running a special programme of online activity throughout May, including live-streamed events, film screenings and artist commissions. The festival aims to support the arts and challenge preconceived ideas about mental health. Artists and audiences will also be exploring what kindness means to them.
Explaining the rationale behind this year's theme, Mark said: "Last week, I waited in a socially distanced queue outside the supermarket as the rain started to fall. One of the staff noticed we were getting wet. He scurried away to find a pile of umbrellas, carefully disinfected the handles and passed them out with a smile. To my surprise, my eyes started to well up. At a time when I felt alone, I suddenly felt connected. If I asked you the last time you gave or experienced kindness, you would tell me stories of when you felt moved, protected, held, seen, loved.
"We think this could be the most important week we’ve hosted, not least because our own research shows that protecting our mental health is going to be central to us coping with and recovering from the coronavirus pandemic - with the psychological and social impacts likely to outlast the physical symptoms of the virus. We have chosen kindness because of its singular ability to unlock our shared humanity. Kindness strengthens relationships, develops community and deepens solidarity. It is a cornerstone of our individual and collective mental health. Wisdom from every culture across history recognises that kindness is something that all human beings need to experience and practise to be fully alive.
"But we also want to shine a light on the ways that kindness is already flowering at this time. We have seen it in the dancing eyes of 100-year-old Captain Tom Moore as he walked his garden to raise money for the NHS and in the mutual aid groups responding to local needs. We want that kindness to spread further in every community in the UK. Finally, we want to use the week to explore the sort of society we would like to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic. We have a once in a generation opportunity not only during but also following this pandemic for a reset and re-think about what kind of society we want to emerge from this crisis."
During lockdown, Phoenix is continuing to see clients via online platforms such as Zoom and are offering discounted rates to those struggling financially at this time. If you're experiencing anxiety, or any other mental health issues, then drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll assist in any way we can.
For more information on Mental Health Awareness Week and how you can get involved, visit mentalhealth.org.uk