Scrabble letters reading "mental health"

With the coronavirus heightening stress and anxiety, it is a difficult time for all of us as we seek to support both our physical and mental health. The coronavirus pandemic has led us all to change our daily routines and created uncertainty about the future. As individuals and as part of a community or a workforce, it can be stressful adjusting to this shifting landscape.

Now more than ever, it is important to remember the power of human connections for boosting our wellbeing. Keeping in touch with people can lift our mood and remind us we have a support system around us. As we have seen across the world, a strong sense of community is vital to surviving and thriving in these difficult times, and at MHFA England we have seen the power of community support first-hand. As a social enterprise we reinvest our profits by providing mental health training and skills to communities that would not otherwise be able to afford it, such as youth sports clubs and local charities and projects.

We have seen some wonderful examples of people coming together in their communities, from the thousands applauding our NHS workers as part of the #ClapForOurCarers movement, to three quarters of a million people signing up as NHS volunteers in less than a week to help support the vulnerable in this crisis. It’s important we keep this mentality in mind during this period in order to protect our collective mental health and there are plenty of further ideas to consider.

Many community helpers have already posted their details through vulnerable household’s letterboxes offering their help, but perhaps you could consider starting a system similar to residents in North Yorkshire, who either showed a red or green card in their front window to alert others if someone in their property needs help.

Alternatively, if most of your community is on social media, WhatsApp and Facebook groups are a great way to organise support for the more vulnerable members of a community. By staying connected with those around you, everyone can feel reassured that they will have access to supplies, have someone to turn to if they are worried about something, and even reduce feelings of isolation. Remember that giving your time and volunteering to help others is a great way to boost your own mental health too.

Self-isolation and social distancing will be a challenge as the weeks wear on and fighting the creep of boredom will be key. If you can stay at a safe distance from your neighbours and family members, why not connect through physical activity across the garden fence or at opposite ends of the driveway? Doing a short workout together can boost your mental health as exercise reduces anxiety and stress.

During lockdown it also can become easy to focus too much on the negatives, so try sharing positive and helpful tips with your community to boost everyone’s mental health. Perhaps you could set up a ‘Fun Team’ forum on WhatsApp or Facebook, or connect on apps like Nextdoor, to focus on positive news stories in the local area and share tips and ideas on how to stay entertained? Could you play a board game virtually with neighbours or use a video calling system to all play charades? Or even crowd-source people’s local skills and ask them to host ‘discovery sessions’ where everyone can learn something new, be that cooking, craft or a new form of exercise? Who knows what you could achieve in your community.

It’s important at this time that we all actively reach out both asking for and offering support. At MHFA England we’re playing our part by encouraging our network of over 500,000 people we’ve trained in mental health awareness and skills to support the nation’s mental health through virtual means. Free helplines and resources such as Shout and the Samaritans are always available should you or anyone in your community need them.

We recognise these are difficult times for everyone and it is important to reach out to neighbours and work out what works best for your community. Each community will have different vulnerable people, different levels of support available depending on the community and working patterns. If you don’t have much time on your hands you can still help everyone, including yourself, by sharing useful self-care tips. We have lots of self-care advice to get you started on our website.

As we adapt to this new normal, it is important to remember we are all going to react differently to these uncertain circumstances but by being open and honest about how we’re feeling we can support one another. A collective response to this crisis can help ensure we can all get the supplies they need, but also so we can all receive the emotional support we need.

Image credit: Wokandapix – Creative Commons