24 May 2020
“It’s important we learn from the coronavirus pandemic to be more kind as a society.”
As mental health awareness week draws to a close and we live our lives in lockdown, we reflect on this year’s theme of kindness and the contribution of philanthropy and giving through the Community Foundation towards this important cause in our society.
It’s been well documented that mental health and wellbeing issues brought about or worsened by living in lockdown will be one of the long-term effects of Covid 19. Loneliness, isolation, uncertainty, depression, anxiety and stress all existed pre-coronavirus to a large extent in NI but these issues have been exacerbated by lockdown, especially among the most vulnerable in our society.
At the Foundation I have the privilege of working with some amazing people and partners and it’s been encouraging to see how many of them are responding in support of the community during the current pandemic. Community groups, including those working on mental health and wellbeing issues across NI have mobilised and adapted their services in support of their clients. Others have regrouped and co-ordinated to reach out and respond to those in their community. It was truly inspiring to hear from Davina’s Ark earlier this week and how they have moved to mobile communications and delivering services seven days a week to keep in regular contact with people recovering from addiction in their community. Isolation and/or a sudden change in lifestyle as a result of Covid 19 can be particularly difficult for their clients but Davina’s Ark have pulled out all the stops and adapted their services to be able to continue. Funders through the Community Foundation have also played their part proactively. Many have given more towards the causes they care about whilst others are being flexible about how their funding can be used or the timescale for delivery of projects. Through the Foundation, they are listening and understanding the issues that charities are facing.
Two examples I’m thinking about are the ARN Foundation and Comic Relief.
It’s often said that the true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable and the generosity shown by the ARN Foundation and Comic Relief in both making more funding available to mental health charities and in their flexibility and engagement with those living and working at the grassroots on these issues through the Community Foundation is exemplary.
One organisation to benefit is GLOW, (Giving Life Opportunities to Women) which supports women and young girls to thrive and has had to quickly explore new ways to stay connected with their clients through the pandemic. Through online platforms, they are building a connected community. “We’re delivering a range of sessions online such as craft, baking and mindfulness; each accompanied with a pre-made pack of items/ingredients which volunteers deliver to the women and young girls in their own homes. Pamper packs are made, where participants make body scrubs and lip balms together with the GLOW team online. We know that these packs help to keep us connected to the women and girls.” Cara Clarke, CEO of GLOW explains.
Support2gether is a group funded through the Comic Relief, ‘Global Health Matters’ programme. They support mothers and families experiencing perinatal mental health issues. Niamh Rafferty, a mother of one who is currently pregnant with her second child, said, “When you become a Mum for the first time, you don’t know what to expect, you don’t know how you’re supposed to feel. For the first while, my son had really bad reflux, he was so unsettled and neither of us was sleeping well-you’re always just trying to do what’s right. By about five months he was starting to sleep better; I wasn’t feeling any better though.”
Niamh became aware of Support2gether’s services when she was referred to a course called ‘Understanding it’s Normal’ and is now in regular contact with Support2gether. Managing a toddler and a second pregnancy during lockdown, Niamh continues to receive essential support from the charity and is part of a Whatsapp group of Mums and a Support 2gether counsellor who can share advice, concerns or just ‘have a yarn’.
Encouraging and directing philanthropy support and partnerships for mental health issues is not a new or emerging issue at the Foundation but Coronavirus is exacerbating the issue and a new sense of urgency is developing. It’s having a huge effect on mental health and well being for people, causing disruption, uncertainty and anxiety. And we know the problem won’t end soon or simply with emergency support. We’re encouraging and supporting our partners to work with us to fund those at the grassroots to recover, build and adapt, ensuring their supports can continue to reach those most in need .
As mental health awareness week is drawing to a close, we are acutely aware that the issue will be with us for much longer and people in our society and the charities that support them will continue to need philanthropic support. That’s why we want to recognise the generosity and kindness of people and funders like the ARN Foundation and Comic Relief and to say thank you for their contributions today and in the future.
Here’s a final word from Alan Nappin of the ARN Foundation who says, “Bringing mental health issues into the open is important. Wider community support for people experiencing severe mental illness can provide an opportunity not just to survive, but to thrive. The ARN Foundation aims to support the organisations who enable individuals of all ages facing mental health struggles to cope with everyday life. It’s important we learn from the coronavirus pandemic to be more kind as a society.”
Siofra Healy, Director of Philanthropy, Community Foundation Northern Ireland