Every year, the Mental Health Foundation—the UK’s leading charity for everyone’s mental health—campaign around a specific theme for a week in May. They’ve been doing this for nearly twenty years (the first themed week being in 2001)—and this year, the theme is ‘kindness’.
This feels entirely appropriate. At time of writing, the world is in the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic. Everything feels strange and different. People are isolated, and the smallest acts of kindness could make a lot of difference.
How does kindness help?
Being kind to those around you, whether family, friends, loved ones or strangers, strengthens relationships, develops community and deepens solidarity. Every culture in human history has understood that kindness and altruism is a necessary part of life, which helps the collective become a better, stronger whole.
Research shows that kindness has a number of positive benefits:
- It can promote physiological changes in the brain lined with happiness, as well as improving our support networks and our self esteem
- It fosters a sense of belonging within a community, reduces loneliness and combats isolation
- It gives us a sense of perspective—evidence shows that being aware of your own acts of kindness can increase happiness and satisfaction
- It encourages others to act in the same way—kindness begets kindness
What can I do for Mental Health Awareness Week?
Of course, this year the activities you can take part in for Mental Health Awareness week are sadly less than they could be. Social distancing, isolation and closed businesses make it a little more difficult than usual to spread kindness across the nation.
But there are plenty of things you can do—at a distance, and online:
Join in online
It’s not quite the same as doing it in person, but opening up conversations about kindness and mental health on your various social media channels is a great start. There could be people in your social circle having a hard time, who don’t know how to speak up—seeing your posts about this week might bring them out of their shell.
The Mental Health Foundation are encouraging spreading stories and images of kind acts via the hashtags #KindnessMatters and #MentalHealtAwarenessWeek. Of course, if you’re taking pictures outside, you should ensure you’re adhering to social distancing and make sure you have the permission of everybody involved.
Host a virtual fundraiser
Sadly, the usual ideas for mental health fundraising like office fancy dress, bake sales and marathon exercise bike sessions are off limits for the majority. But you can still make a difference in your workplace with a virtual fundraiser.
Quizzes, baking competitions (with the winner judged on aesthetics!), and even fancy dress via Zoom are all still possible—and a lot more fun than you might think.
Attend the online mental health arts festival
Now in its 14th year, the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival (SMHAF) is one of Scotland’s most diverse cultural events, covering everything from music, film and visual art to theatre, dance, and literature.
This year, due to the coronavirus situation, the festival is being held online—and is free to access for all, with a ‘pay what you can’ donation scheme.
It’s a great way to combat isolation, and the films you can watch are all good ways to open up conversations about mental health.
If you yourself are struggling with the isolation and loneliness of the lockdown, now is the perfect time to reach out. It’s just as important to be kind to yourself as it is to others. The Mental Health Foundation have lots of resources that will help you find your way through this trying time—and remember, small acts of kindness blossom into much bigger feelings of positivity.