Mind in the City, Hackney & Waltham Forest – You Matter Too: Community mental health during the coronavirus crisis

Right now mental health is a growing concern for us all, as we face the emotional toll of being forced to stay home, feeling anxious or worried from watching the news or considering the safety of our loved ones, and having to adapt to new work and life patterns. At ELBA we have seen the effect this has had on our community partners who work in the mental health sector. Coinciding with Mental Health Awareness Week earlier this month, we spoke to Vanessa Morris, CEO of one of our partner organisations, Mind in the City, Hackney & Waltham Forest, who shared her experience over the past few weeks, and the new challenges the organisation is now facing.

What are the main aims of your organisation?
We want everyone experiencing poor mental health to get support and respect. We provide mental health services, and work to improve understanding of what can help improve all of our mental health.

What have you noticed have been the main effects or challenges to mental health in the community since the coronavirus crisis began?
In the first few weeks we saw a drop in demand. The government’s message of ‘stay home’ and ‘protect the NHS’ had an unintended effect of stopping people seeking help when they needed it. Lots of people thought they should soldier on. But early help matters. Since then, we’ve started to see a big increase in people reporting anxiety. There has been worry and anger about the disproportionate impact on BAME communities – this has retraumatised some people who have never felt valued by society and have suffered poor health. That said, lots of people with severe mental health needs are very used to isolation and have had a lot to teach others about resilience. It’s been inspiring to see so much peer support developing.

How has this impacted the work of your organisation? How have you had to adapt and change?
We’ve rapidly changed our delivery models, and have worked with service users to build supports that respond to the unique circumstances. This includes creating digital offers that can be accessed on demand – many people using our services don’t have a lot of personal and confidential space so support needs to be a lot more flexible. A lot of our support involves building compassion, peer support and self care – these are extra important now and we need more funding to keep us developing more ways of scaling these supports as the mental health needs of the crisis develop.

What are your thoughts and concerns for the future of mental health provision as a result of the current crisis?
The swift move to digital services could expand access to early help, but a huge amount of effort needs to go into bridging the digital divide. I’m concerned about greater austerity ahead, which has already led to much less holistic and diverse support for mental health. We need to help our children and young people form steady foundations for positive mental health.

What can be done in the wider community to help address this? What do you feel is needed?
An understanding of the effects of trauma – and a recognition of the skills we all have to help each other make sense of difficult events. We also need to acknowledge and tailor support towards people from BAME groups, who have experienced great loss. We need to keep a renewed focus on people with pre-existing vulnerabilities, such as older people and people with severe mental health needs. We know isolation is as poor for our health as smoking – let’s focus on keeping people connected and knowing that they are valued by society. There should also be a sustained focus on workplace wellbeing and job retention, particularly for people with low paid and precarious jobs.

Are there any messages or words of advice you’d like to share for anyone concerned about their own mental wellbeing at this time?
You matter too – if you’re struggling, it’s ok to seek help. If you are a keyworker or from a minority group: you matter too – you can get help whilst you’re giving help. Mental Health Awareness Week was 18th-24th May, and the theme was kindness. Join us online at mindchwf.org.uk each day to practice being kind to each other and ourselves.

To learn more about the work of Mind CHWF, how they’re responding to the crisis and how you can help, visit their website.

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