Mental Health Awareness week and the power of community

This week is mental health awareness week in the UK, and never was it more important than now, given our current global and national circumstances which has, perhaps unsurprisingly, seen a rise in mental health issues, which now affect 1 in 4 of us. 

This year, part of the focus for mental health awareness week is community; looking at how the wider community, along with the amazing structures and professional services already in place, can not only continue its support, but grow in its role in working together to alleviate the issue of mental health in the UK. 

So not only is this week an opportunity to further understand and openly discuss mental health issues, but to shine a light on how we, as communities can play a role in supporting the people in our local neighbourhoods who are severely affected by mental health issues.

I am sure that despite the many challenging and tricky circumstances we’ve all been navigating, you will have felt, seen, or heard of the many uplifting and unifying moments within your local communities too. From those that worked quickly overnight putting leaflets through doors to offer support and service to the isolated, the unwell and the elderly, to gathering together to show our collective support for the NHS, banging pots and pans, smiling and chatting with neighbours from our doorsteps and windows. 

A beautiful by-product of spending so much -well all- of our time at home is that it has provided so many natural moments of connection, conversation, support and exchanges with our neighbours. Perhaps because there is just so much less dashing about. Heads down, earphones in, looking at our smartphones while sending an email running to catch the train. We may have even, unknowingly,  passed our neighbours in the street without saying hello. We were busy. Life, for most of us, was probably very, very “full”. We didn’t have time to chat, we thought. 

But in just 2 months, together we’ve broken down walls, we’ve chatted more than ever over our garden fences, spent days in our homes, gardens and streets rubbing alongside each other as supportive, thriving living networks; remembering that “a thousand fibres connects us with our fellow men.” - Herman Melville. Where one house and family now feels more socially connected with the one next door, and so on, and so on, and that sense of connection and community has trickled outwards, bringing with it the power to touch, and change the lives of those that need it the most. 

Studies from Rethink Mental Illness show us that wider community support and social connection for people experiencing severe mental illness can provide an opportunity not just to survive, but to thrive. The future of mental health care is community based and locally focussed.  “One of the marvelous things about community is that it enables us to welcome and help people in a way we couldn't as individuals.” – Jean Vanier

So together with this shift in our current focus, we can see how we really can make a difference through showing compassion and kindness to everyone in our communities, we all have a part to play. We are in this together, and now really is the time. "In every community, there is work to be done. In every nation, there are wounds to heal. In every heart, there is the power to do it. – Marianne Williamson

If you have been, or are affected by mental illness and want support, or would like to read more and see how you can get involved in your community, you can visit any of the following.

Written by Emily Graves, writer, yoga and mindfulness teacher and co-author of our Unwind Your Mind journal.