Shaping new approaches to mental health
The pandemic has presented a situation like never before with people becoming more socially isolated due to an increase in poor mental health. Recent research by the mental health charity Mind reveals that 10.6 million people in the UK describe their current mental wellbeing as poor. Furthermore, 24% of respondents said that they became isolated from their community due to the pandemic with 61% of those saying this affected their mental wellbeing.
"Allowing individuals to face forward to their own future is what I have designed this initiative to achieve." - Neil Morris, Fellow
In January 2022 I was awarded a Covid-19 Action Fund grant to work with individuals who, during the pandemic, had experienced a mental health issue, suffered redundancy or loss of job, or had a relationship breakdown. The basis of my project is to engage with these individuals to help them transition back into mainstream society as part of their recovery journey.
My Fellowship in 2008 took me to New Zealand and Australia where I visited mental health projects. I wanted to research ideas that would allow me to build on my professional expertise and personal experience, to explore how men recovering from a mental health illness were engaged in training and education as part of their rehabilitation.
I am a lived experience worker and a survivor of mental health. In 1995 I was marked ‘mentally ill’ at the age of 40. I lost my job and was forced to leave full time work. I was told, “You are like a light bulb, you have burnt out and we are replacing you.”
Like many males in those days, I had a stereotypical attitude as to what the role of a man should be, that they should be ‘the bread-winner’ in a partnership. Becoming disaffected, feeling disenfranchised and alienated by society, having little self-worth, or self-esteem, my confidence was virtually nil, and I felt that I could trust no-one.
I had several attempts at suicide. This was a learning experience that was hard not just for me, but for my wife Janet, family, and friends. But this was also the start of a journey of transformation for me.
I am one of life’s survivors. I have been there, had the pain, suffered life’s journey when it’s been at its worst, but come through it: the whole experience of stress, illness and the hard climb back to positive mental health. Finding my Christian faith has given me the in-built personal experience and drive to make a difference to others who find themselves in similar situations. I have that lived experience.
As part of my recovery, I chose to volunteer, initially working as a volunteer tutor and then I qualified as an adult education teacher. Over the last 20-plus years, I have worked in community education settings, where I assist others with a mental health illness to return to work. A key aspect of my work is working with individuals to build their self-worth and confidence.
The pandemic has only accelerated this need, as Covid-19 has upended normal life as we knew it. Daily routines of individuals changed and as a result people became frightened of this new reality, experiencing fear, forced isolation and in some cases, maybe, no hope.
The current Omicron crisis has only heightened all these fears and many individuals are still frightened for themselves, still scared to join in events or activities, which shows that loneliness and isolation remain. And for those most left behind, it may continue to grow.
A recent report from the British Red Cross, Life after lockdown: tackling loneliness among those left behind, reported:
- 41% of UK adults report feeling lonelier since lockdown.
- More than a quarter of UK adults agree that they worry something will happen to them and no one will notice.
- 31% of UK adults often feel alone, as though they have no one to turn to.
- A third of UK adults haven’t had a meaningful conversation in at least the last week.
- The loneliest people feel the least able to cope or recover from the Covid-19 crisis.
- A lack of meaningful contact, a reduction of informal and formal support, and increased anxiety have exacerbated loneliness during the crisis.
Using my Action Fund grant, I will develop an initiative entitled Facing Forward to The Future. This will aim to involve and re-engage those who have been disenfranchised, back into the community.
I will do this by developing a pilot series of craft activity sessions that can be delivered both virtually and in-person. Craft packs will be sent to individuals who register, who will then be invited to attend online sessions where a facilitator will demonstrate how to carry out the activity. I also hope to run in-person activity sessions in community halls, for those at risk of digital exclusion.
The aims of this initiative are:
- To regenerate community engagement work in my area of operation after lockdown and to engage with socially excluded adults in my local community.
- To allow these adults to see undertaking something creative as a positive experience and to experience a taste of a meaningful and purposeful activity.
- To renew their confidence and self-esteem by integrating them within the local community.
This project could be one of several pathways that become available. Allowing individuals to face forward to their own future is what I have designed this initiative to achieve.
The views and opinions expressed by any Fellow are those of the Fellow and not of the Churchill Fellowship or its partners, which have no responsibility or liability for any part of them.