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4:00 AM 28th August 2021
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How Can Local Communities And Charities Adapt To The Enormous Demand For Mental Health Services?

Rosemary Macdonald, CEO of UK Community Foundations - a national network of 47 community foundations, which have collectively given out over £1 billion in grants to charities, community groups and individuals, asks how can local communities and charities adapt to the enormous demand for mental health services?

As the Covid-19 pandemic has evolved, so has the need it has created.

During February – March 2021, we asked our network of community foundations to complete a survey to help us understand the challenges that the local charities in their areas are facing, and the changing areas of need they are experiencing. The findings of the survey were recently published in our new report.

Rosemary Macdonald
Rosemary Macdonald
As the pandemic continues to cause increased hardship, it is unsurprising that 100% of the community foundations we surveyed said that they are experiencing increasing levels of need in their local areas.

When we delved deeper into the services which are most needed, concerningly 100% of the community foundations reported that there is an increasing need for mental health services.

To add further context, research by the Office of National Statistics found that 1 in 5 (21%) adults in the UK experienced some form of depression in early 2021 – more than double the proportion observed before the Covid-19 pandemic began (10%).

This research also found that disabled (39%) and clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) adults (31%) were more likely to experience some form of depression than non-disabled (13%) and non-CEV adults (20%), and almost 3 in 10 (28%) adults living in the most deprived areas of England experienced depressive symptoms; this compares with just under 2 in 10 (17%) adults in the least deprived areas of England.

In light of this need, healthcare services are stretched further than ever before, resulting in long waiting times for those in crisis. More and more people are reaching out to their local mental health charities, in order to access the mental health support, they desperately need.

So, how can charities and communities work together to ensure that this need is met? Communication! A key lesson we have all learnt from the pandemic, is that we all need to get talking. The Centre for Mental Health predicts that up to 10 million people will need either new or additional mental health support as a result of the Covid-19 crisis.

Letting someone know that you are struggling with mental health can be extremely difficult but it's really important to talk to someone. Reaching out to a local specialist charity may be helpful as not only will they be able to offer support, but it will enable them to understand the needs of the communities they serve and adapt their services accordingly. In turn, charities relay what they are seeing to their local community foundations, so that they can build a clear picture of local need which is used to inform how funding is distributed.

Our recent survey of community foundations across the country found that 74% of community foundations are expecting charitable organisations in their area to close due to financial pressures, and 46% have already seen closures. Now more than ever we must make sure that our grant-making is in tune with the needs of the local charities and community groups that have been a vital lifeline to people. Thankfully, the work we do at UK Community Foundations (UKCF) is helping to address this widespread problem; we have distributed £68 million of National Emergencies Trust funding during Covid-19.

Over the pandemic, our community foundations have used their local insight to ensure that their grant-making best fits the needs of the places in which they are based. The work between Saffron Sheffield and South Yorkshire’s Community Foundation is a great example of this.

Saffron Sheffield is a local charity that offers free, specialist services for women in Sheffield who are suffering psychological trauma due to experiences of abuse or trauma as children or adults. In the wake of Covid-19 they faced high demand for their services and were regularly over-subscribed. However, the pandemic also left them facing resourcing issues.

Image by Mary Pahlke from Pixabay
Image by Mary Pahlke from Pixabay
Through the support of South Yorkshire’s Community Foundation, Saffron Sheffield were able to access funding to help towards the cost of a new part-time specialist therapist who provided 1:1 psychotherapy for young women aged 16 – 26 in Sheffield, supporting with their mental health. This grant enabled Saffron Sheffield to reduce their waiting list and resulted in positive improvements for the women involved in the service.

Another local charity striving to improve the mental health of others is Cloth Cat , based in Leeds. Their aim is to give people a sense of purpose and belonging, and gain more control over their own lives, by harnessing the power of music.

Covid-19 created a culture of isolation and anxiety for many people in the local area, so Cloth Cat has been working to improve people’s resilience and confidence by bringing people together and providing opportunities to socialise and form friendships. To help Cloth Cat on their mission, Leeds Community Foundation provided the charity with grants totalling over £40,000, which was instrumental in helping them to continue with their vital work in the wake of the pandemic.

After receiving this lifeline from Leeds Community Foundation, Cloth Cat are now able to fund their ‘Man About Town’ project – a multimedia project aimed at reducing social isolation, initiating friendships, and reigniting a spark for music and digital arts. The past year has seen them support 50 men through a range of different activities, which were adapted to account for social distancing guidelines. These include a vinyl picnic where people brought their records to the park and were played over lunch on battery-operated turntables, a photography and film club and most recently, the emergence of a ukulele orchestra.

ManHealth is a local charity from Country Durham which received support from their local community foundation during the pandemic. It’s another great example of how local communities and community foundations have been supporting mental health efforts over the last year.

Founded in 2015 by Paul Bannister, who struggled with mental health but found it difficult to reach out for support, the charity works to support men who are seeking help, and offers a listening ear, advice and knowledge on how to manage their illness and rebuild their confidence. In 2019 Samaritans reported that the highest suicide rate in the UK was among men aged 45-49 years old – and ManHealth worked to reach out to those who were suffering.

Photo by Alex Ivashenko on Unsplash
Photo by Alex Ivashenko on Unsplash
Due to the ongoing pandemic, in person support was becoming more and more challenging, leaving many of the charity’s beneficiaries without this vital lifeline. But through funding from County Durham Community Foundation, ManHealth was able to adapt and launched a ‘Chat and Connect’ service, which runs 7 nights a week, from 6pm to 10pm. Through this service, ManHealth seeks to solve a complex social issue and save the lives of men who were socially isolated due to the pandemic.

One Voice Blackburn is a local charity which works to address the inequalities and isolation that affect people in Blackburn, by helping to develop the physical and mental wellbeing of the individuals they support. Like many other charities across the UK, One Voice Blackburn experienced an increase in the number of people seeking mental health support in the wake of the pandemic.

There was a particular increase in anxiety from members of their community with a South Asian heritage, due to the higher risk of COVID-19 to their health. They also found that people were feeling mentally unwell, due to not being able to go to school, work or see their family and friends.

Lancashire Community Foundation provided funding to One Voice Blackburn, which was vital in enabling the charity to provide virtual support sessions for those who were isolated from their communities.

Despite the barriers they have faced, local charities and organisations have remained driven, committed, and creative in how they have supported people with mental health crises in communities far and wide.

By providing sustainable funding and long-term support, our community foundations will continue to work with local partners to maintain and develop these necessary services and help communities to reconnect, recover and rebuild. As the flow of emergency funding to the sector is slowed, we must ensure that as funders we are doing the best we can to support communities as they recover from the long-term effects of the pandemic.